Wednesday, May 10, 2006

How same-sex marriage might affect straight people

I've been interested in gay rights issues for about eight years now and in those eight years I've read a lot of stuff from both sides of the issue, but this article by Maggie Gallagher is the very first thing I've read that actually makes an intelligent, well-thought out, concrete case for how legalizing same-sex marriage might affect straight people.

The argument, basically, is that as same-sex marriage and other non-discrimination laws for GLBT people are adopted, freedom of religion could be affected. Not in the sense that churches will suddenly be forced to marry same-sex couples or change their doctrine about the sinfulness of same-sex relationships, but in areas where the church interacts with the state. Case in point: the withdrawal of Catholic Charities of Boston from the adoption business.

To operate in Massachusetts, an adoption agency must be licensed by the state. And to get a license, an agency must pledge to obey state laws barring discrimination--including the decade-old ban on orientation discrimination. With the legalization of gay marriage in the state, discrimination against same-sex couples would be outlawed, too.

Cardinal O'Malley asked Governor Mitt Romney for a religious exemption from the ban on orientation discrimination. Governor Romney reluctantly responded that he lacked legal authority to grant one unilaterally, by executive order. So the governor and archbishop turned to the state legislature, requesting a conscience exemption that would allow Catholic Charities to continue to help kids in a manner consistent with Catholic teaching.

To date, not a single other Massachusetts political leader appears willing to consider even the narrowest religious exemption. Lieutenant Governor Kerry Healey, the Republican candidate for governor in this fall's election, refused to budge: "I believe that any institution that wants to provide services that are regulated by the state has to abide by the laws of the state," Healey told the Boston Globe on March 2, "and our antidiscrimination laws are some of our most important."

I'm kind of torn about this myself. I am an adamant supporter of gay couples being allowed to adopt, but I also think religious organizations (and individuals) should be allowed some leeway to follow their own theology. I fully support, for example, the Supreme Court decision that allowed the Boy Scouts to deny membership to gay men. However, I do not support public funds going to such an organization, and my son sure as hell will never be a Boy Scout.

But what's interesting about the Catholic Charities of Boston case is that the theologically-based edict that the organization could not adopt kids out to same-sex couples came from on high. The people who do the day-to-day work? The people who actually were working with the kids and the prospective parents? They support adoption by same-sex couples. So really, it wasn't so much the state forcing the organization to bow to its wishes, but the PARENT organization (the Catholic Church) forcing its will on what was otherwise working.

Granted, It's CATHOLIC Charities of Boston, which means the Catholic Church gets to say how it operates. But are we putting our theology to a rigorous enough test if we only look to traditional views of Scripture and not at how that intersects with real day-to-day life? If the people who handle the adoptions find same-sex couples to be excellent candidates for parenting, then is it possible that it's the theology that's skewed? Touchy subject, I know, because faith by definition can't be proven. But we have to remember that everything we know about God, including what's in the Scriptures, is filtered through imperfect humans. The idea that any of the versions of Christianity as we know it today are straight from God without humans mucking it up and making into that "dark mirror" Paul talked about in 1 Corinthians 13 is ludicrous. It takes very little research to find that most of the "fundamentals" of Christianity come not from Paul or even Jesus, but from debates in the early church. Debates among flawed humans. Much like the debates that are still happening today.

But that's really another argument for another day. Putting aside whether or not the Catholic Church is right or wrong on the issue of adoption, following the church's theology has put Catholic Charities of Boston in a position of having to defy state law, which means that in good conscience, the only thing it can do is to withdraw from the adoption business, and this is really in nobody's best interest.

This is just one example where a conflict has arisen for a religious institution because its theology diverges from the law of the state, which in this case views same-sex married couples as legally the same as opposite-sex married couples. The author of the article goes on to discuss a forum of ten religious liberty scholars from all ends of the political spectrum.

Reading through these and the other scholars' papers, I noticed an odd feature. Generally speaking the scholars most opposed to gay marriage were somewhat less likely than others to foresee large conflicts ahead--perhaps because they tended to find it "inconceivable," as Doug Kmiec of Pepperdine law school put it, that "a successful analogy will be drawn in the public mind between irrational, and morally repugnant, racial discrimination and the rational, and at least morally debatable, differentiation of traditional and same-sex marriage." That's a key consideration. For if orientation is like race, then people who oppose gay marriage will be treated under law like bigots who opposed interracial marriage. Sure, we don't arrest people for being racists, but the law does intervene in powerful ways to punish and discourage racial discrimination, not only by government but also by private entities. Doug Laycock, a religious liberty expert at the University of Texas law school, similarly told me we are a "long way" from equating orientation with race in the law.

By contrast, the scholars who favor gay marriage found it relatively easy to foresee looming legal pressures on faith-based organizations opposed to gay marriage, perhaps because many of these scholars live in social and intellectual circles where the shift Kmiec regards as inconceivable has already happened. They have less trouble imagining that people and groups who oppose gay marriage will soon be treated by society and the law the way we treat racists because that's pretty close to the world in which they live now.

I think this is where the rubber meets the road. There is no such thing as pure religious liberty. If I belonged to a religion that devoutly believed the key to salvation was human sacrifice, I'm pretty sure the state would prevent me from practicing that element of my faith, and rightly so. In a more real-world example, Warren Jeffs, the leader of a religious sect that supports polygamy, just made the FBI's 10 Most Wanted list.

Warren Jeffs, 50, leader of the Fundamentalist Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, is accused of arranging marriages between underage girls and older men....

Jeffs is wanted in Arizona on criminal charges of sexual conduct with a minor. He also was charged in Utah with rape as an accomplice. He was placed on the FBI's 10 Most Wanted Fugitives list Saturday with a $100,000 reward.

So here we have a definite case of the rights of others (the underage girls being forced into these marriages) trumping the religious liberty of Jeffs and his sect.

I think it's interesting to note that one of the staple arguments used by organizations opposed to same-sex marriage is that it would get us on the "slippery slope" to legalizing polygamy. It's disingenuous, then, to argue that the peril to their religious liberty is crucial while at the same time supporting laws that deny the same kinds of religious liberties to sects like the one Jeffs belongs to. The reason we deny Jeffs his religious liberty is a good one: his religion is unfairly denying rights to others, namely the underage girls he's forcing into marriage and sexual relationships. The fact that his theology says that's what God wants doesn't take away the state's responsibility to protect these girls. Their rights trump his religious liberty, and that's as it should be.

So the question becomes, should the rights of GLBT people and of same-sex couples trump the religious liberty of those who believe those relationships are inherently sinful and morally repugnant? Is discriminating against LGBT people the same thing as discriminating against racial minorities? Against women? Is keeping marriage exclusive to straight couples the same thing as, for example, laws that made it illegal for couples of different races to marry? This is what the argument all boils down to: whose rights prevail?

I would argue that yes, the rights of GLBT people should trump religious liberty. My religious liberty should extend only so far as I don't infringe on the rights of others, and denying GLBT people and same-sex couples the same rights and responsibilities straight couples enjoy does infringe on their rights. It does hurt their families in very real ways that are much more significant and tangible then "the state is stopping me from practicing my religion." Kids being ripped from homes, families being torn apart, loved ones being denied access to each other in times of crises; surely these are all far greater ills then "my church can't get a license to be an adoption agency because we thing same-sex relationships are wrong."

I would also add that current laws against same-sex marriage also deny some individuals religious liberty. A same-sex couple whose faith allows for same-sex relationships but only allows for sexual conduct within the confines of marriage is being denied their religious liberty if they aren't allowed to get married. So whose religious liberty wins out? Mine or yours?

I applaud Maggie Gallagher for her well-written article and after eight years of searching, I can finally concede that yes, there is a case for how gay marriage affects straight people. But it still doesn't come close to making the argument that this makes same-sex marriage bad. The scale still falls heavily in favor of the rights of same-sex couples. Ripping apart families in the name of religious liberty is simply not a fair trade-off.


At 12:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

"If the people who handle the adoptions find same-sex couples to be excellent candidates for parenting, then is it possible that it's the theology that's skewed?"

With all due respect, if you really don't like the menu, why are you working at the restaurant? Nobody is *forced* to work for any NFPO, much less Catholic Charities. At least not in the USA. I see less pointing to the skewing of theology and more to the disintegrity of people who will work for an organziation in which they do not believe.

--Erin C

At 8:30 PM, Anonymous Karen said...

This article sure does give much to ponder. On the one hand, I unequivocally support state protection of lgbt civil rights, including marriage (being in a long-term lesbian relationship myself). On another hand, I understand the viewpoint that there is a place for religious liberty. Is it healthy for our democracy and for our living together as peaceably as possible to force religious groups to follow national policy protecting lgbt marriage or forfeit tax exempt status? This would either encourage self-imposed muted speech (being once closeted, I know how damaging to one's integrity silence can be), or endanger worthwhile services offered by many religious groups. Perhaps the idea of religious exemptions, defined as strictly as possible, is worth trying. Sexual liberty would be upheld, with room for religious liberty. Years ago, when I was a Presbyterian, our General Assembly (the Presbyterian national governing body) supported Bob Jones University in the case cited in Gallagher's article, not because it supported that school's racist policies, but because it disapproved the government's telling religious bodies how to practice their beliefs. It supported room for religious liberty. Ironically, in recent years I've left the Presbyterian Church because its policies don't allow me to practice my ministerial calling as an out lesbian woman; it allows no room for sexual liberty.

Of course, to allow some religious exemption to lgbt civil rights and marriage laws could be dangerous. Conservative religious groups could re-marshal their power to eventually overturn such laws. On the other hand, to clamp down on religious practice will likely foster a backlash anyway. It's no doubt a tenuous line between church and state, civil rights and religious liberty. I hope against hope that we can nurture real dialogue to find a place we all can live.

At 10:18 AM, Anonymous T. Shawn Long said...

Excellent post, and nicely explained.

I think the most cogent point is the one you make that gay marriage has *no* affect on the rights of straight people, while prohibiting gay marriage actively eliminates rights for gay people. I like your description that one person's rights end where another's begins.

Either we're a country based on equality or we're not. I've always thought homophobia was a subset of sexism -- basically you're discrminating against a gay person because they're not a woman/man.

When I was growing up in rural North Carolina, people still said that interracial marriage was unnatural and against God. Thank goodness their religious freedom wasn't used to quash the >1,000 civil rights that marriage gives to interracial couples!

It strikes me as sad that America, which used to be the leader in fairness, seems to be falling behind. It's particularly disheartening when you hear that people want to change the Constitution to deny rights to certain Americans *shudder*.

At 6:11 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

You are slightly misinformed in your post.

It is not that Catholic Charities refused to place children in qualified gay and lesbian households that caused the end of their adoption services, it is because they refused to even CONSIDER qualified gay and lesbian applications. There is a tremendous difference.

Furthermore, it was not even the decision of Catholic Charities to end their adoption services!!

The 42 member board of the Catholic Charities of Boston voted UNANIMOUSLY to continue considering the applications of qualified gay and lesbian families.

The four bishops of Massachusetts chose to override the decision of their own child welfare experts, and close ALL adoption services instead. As a Catholic, I cannot understand how you would not see THAT as the immoral part of this story.

A simple google search would have turned up the fact that the information used as a source for this post(not unusual in any of Maggie's writing) was utterly misleading.

On a different note - I am curious if Maggie is still getting paid tens of thousands of dollars by the Bush administration to push their marriage efforts, and passing it off as journalism and academia - as she was found out to be doing in 2003.

At 9:31 AM, Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

Wow, this is a scary article I think. Essentially what you have is a clash of worldviews or ideologies. One of which is explicitly labeled "religious" while the other is called "secular" but both of them are really religious in that they command the fidelity of their adherents. SO essentially what the state has to do is arbitrate between two religious positions: 1) Traditional Judeo-Christian (and Muslim) religion that says Homosexual practice is sinful (a position held by the vast majority of the Population) and 2) A Post-Enlightenment/Modernity religion that espouses the absolute rights of the autonomous individual (a position held by a sizeable minority, including a great many who belong to explicitly "religious" faith traditions)
I wonder how on earth the state or anyone else can legitimately arbitrate between these positions? To do so is to take a religious position (though if the side of the "secular religion" is taken, this fact of siding with a religous worldview will be denied because of the unique nature of that "secular religion").
The fact that you are willing to deny traditional religious folk their religious freedom at that point where "they affect the rights of others" IS a slippery slope. What if they infringe upon my right not to be offended? What if they infringe upon my "emotional well-being" with their strange teachings? Should we shut them up if they infringe upon my right of "pursuit of happiness"? And again the all important question: who decides these things? The Supreme Court? 9 un-elected judicial aristocrats deciding the religious freedoms of hundreds of millions of Americans? Hmmm....

At 10:54 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not yet seen in responses to the Catholic Charities decision or Ghallager's interpretation of it any information about Catholic Charities other policies; did they consider applications by unmarried hetero couples? by single persons (who might or might not be gay?) I have read that pressure was being placed on Catholic Charities by corporate donors who believed that the new adoption policy meant the charity no longer fit corporate non-discrimination policies. That may have been the reason the adoption agency was closed. It does sound like the bishop was cutting off his nose to spite his face.
By the way, I am another Methodist who believes that our church, too, would be more merciful, just and Godly if we were to clearly affirm our GLBT members.


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