Church, State, Gay, Straight

Okay, it’s time for one of my broken-record rants.

In the wake of President Obama’s endorsement of same-sex marriage, we’ve had a predictable–and increasingly tiresome–outpouring of criticisms to the effect that government recognition of such unions violates the “religious liberty” of those who oppose them.

No, it doesn’t.

Government recognition of civil same-sex marriages is no different from government’s recognition of heterosexual divorce. Divorce violates the religious doctrines of Catholics and several other Christian denominations. Those denominations remain free to expel divorced congregants, to refuse to recognize their newly single status, to preach against divorce, or to take such other congregational action as may be dictated by their particular theologies. Meanwhile, the government adjusts the legal, civil and tax status of divorced folks. It recognizes the reality of their severed relationship.

If every state in the country were to recognize same-sex marriage tomorrow–if they were to recognize the reality of same-sex relationships–churches would still be free to reject gay parishioners, to refuse to perform same-sex unions, and to preach about the sin of homosexuality in accordance with their doctrines. But gay couples could file joint tax returns. Their children would be covered under their employers’  health insurance policies. They would be entitled to hospital visitation, Social Security survivor benefits, and the full panoply of civil rights to which legally married folks are entitled. Last time I looked, there were well over a thousand such rights that my husband and I enjoy automatically because the government recognizes our marriage.

It has been obvious for a very long time that the only genuine objection to same-sex marriage is religious. There are no credible secular arguments, as was painfully clear from the trial testimony in California’s Proposition 8  litigation. Numerous studies have confirmed that children raised by gay parents–and there are millions of them–are just as well-adjusted and happy as those raised by heterosexuals. All of the public policy reasons for encouraging heterosexual marriage apply with equal force to homosexual ones. The “slippery slope” argument has best been rebutted by Bill Maher, who noted that allowing women to vote did not–surprise!–usher in voting rights for dogs or vegetables.

Furthermore, not all religions are homophobic. A growing number of denominations are welcoming gays and lesbians and celebrating same-sex marriages.

What we are seeing now is the last gasp of the fundamentalists who believe–contrary to history and the American constitution–that the U.S. is a Christian Nation, and not simply Christian, but their particular brand of Christian. When we deconstruct their argument, it boils down to a conviction that whenever the government allows behavior of which they disapprove, government has violated their religious liberty.

Next time we go to war, tell that to the Quakers.


  1. The Catholic church seems to be the leader in opposing same-sex marriage. This is the same religion who covers up and pays off victims of child molest by virtually hundreds of their ordained priests. They have the right to be for or against any faction they wish; they have lost sight of the fact that the rest of this country and the world have that same right. We could argue this one issue for years and never get past the situation as it is now. Why are politicians and religious organizations so deeply imbedded in the sex life of others? It hasn’t been that long ago that interracial marriage was illegal in Indiana and many other states. While still frowned upon by many, that law changed and the country didn’t collapse under the weight of that decision. I was one-half of interracial marriage and have many gay friends who would simply like to share their lives, with the same civil rights, as heterosexuals. Let’s view the reality of their religious arguments – they have no effect on or the right to control – other religions or the lives of any American citizen.

  2. Just this past January a unanimous U.S. Supreme Court, in rejecting an employment discrimination complaint by a teacher engaged in religioius ministry, continued to draw a protected one around the right of a denomination to protect its doctrinal teachings. The line of cases that represents isn’t going to change regardless of the ideological makeup of the Court.

    The more thorny issues get thornier the further one gets from :”core church”, outward to the areas where the institution begins to look like any other business enterprise, especially as it grows in size. Would anyone seriously say that a large metropolitan hospital occupying several city blocks could become exempt from health and safety regulations simply because it’s owned by a religious organization that might happen to have a “sincerely held moral belief” that God exemts them from such “control” by the state?

    There’s a point where other sections of the U.S. Constitution, such as the Equal Protection and Due Process clauses, can be seen in conflict with the First Amendment, including its Free Exercise Clause. The courts have long been called upon to balance them, and people will continue to argue whether or not the balancing point chosen is the correct one. Conservatives used to hail that as being the “genius of the Founding Fathers” in crafting a three-branch system of government. Apparently not any more. Judicial balancing is considered as sinister a thing as legislative compromise.

  3. What did Jesus have to say about gay marriage and gay sex?? . . . Nothing.

  4. Thanks Sheila
    Well said
    In my lifetime of 63 years, there were only a couple of times I got really choked up by national political speach.
    Once was when Rev Jackson spoke about including Gay people in the American dream during a Democratic Convention Speach. I never thought I would live long enough to hear that from the podium.
    The other was when Pres Obama spoke of us recently….how he thought we actually were full citizens. Imagine that.
    “Little” things mean a lot

  5. Um, I don’t mean to rain on the parade here, but Obama’s political stance on gay marriage is exactly the same as Romney’s.

    They both believe it’s a state’s rights issue. Obama can talk all he wants about repealing DOMA and “supporting” gay rights. He did all that before, and also during the campaign, where he said the same thing: it’s a state issue. He could have easily pushed through legislation in his first two years, but he knew he didn’t have the support at the state level (despite people saying there’s “overwhelming” support for gay rights there isn’t. People can cite polling all they want, the fact that the Dems didn’t even bother speaks much more to the fact.)

    I understand people are going to read into personal beliefs, and completely ignore that both candidates are saying it will NOT effect their stances, but then what’s the point? What are we celebrating? A change of heart that will not change anything?

  6. No that haven’t said the same thing, Marco. Romney favors an amendment to the federal constitution which wouldl ban same sex marriage.

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