Up until recently, I’ve been content to express my views on same-sex marriage in one-on-one conversations and occasional posts to chatrooms and social networking sites. However, in light of the renewed onslaught against the rights and dignity of GLBT couples, I feel compelled to speak publicly on the subject.
First, I will respond to the latest bit of propaganda by methodically refuting its key arguments. Then, I will present my own solution to the conflict — which, while not at all original, is often overlooked and should satisfy reasonable individuals on all sides of the debate.
So… a group called National Organization for Marriage has started pushing a TV commercial called “A Gathering Storm.” Of course, NOM isn’t the only group pushing this so-called “religious freedom” agenda. But their arguments are pretty typical, and they have appointed themselves as champions of the cause, so I will make them the target of my rhetorical wrath.
I’m not going to link to the commercial because I don’t want to boost their popularity in search engines. But it should be easy enough to find on your own. If you haven’t watched it yet, go ahead and watch it now to ensure that you know what I’m talking about.
We could have a whole nother debate about the level of fear presented in this piece of propaganda, and how much of that is genuine fear versus cool calculating propaganda intended to make the viewer afraid. But for now, let’s take it at face value. Let’s assume that someone is raising genuine concerns over the implications that same-sex marriage has for people who are religiously opposed to it. Let’s examine these concerns and reply appropriately.
Concern 1: Doctors and Faith. Apparently, a doctor was told that she could not legally refuse to perform an artificial insemination treatment simply because the patient was a lesbian. This was ruled to be a form of descrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
First of all, this concern is wholly unrelated to the same-sex marriage debate. The anti-discrimination law would apply regardless of whether her state had same-sex marriage.
Second, this doctor may indeed need to make a choice between her profession and her faith if her faith prohibits working professionally with GLBT patients. As a doctor, her profession serves the general public — and all professions which serve the general public must be ready to serve all members of that public regardless of race, ethnicity, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, etc.
Her faith-based denial may seem innocuous enough in a fertility clinic — but what happens when I’m in an emergency room and she wants to deny me life-saving treatment because I’m a bisexual? Or because I’m a Pagan for that matter.
The point here is that if you are a doctor, you are a doctor. If you don’t want to inseminate lesbians, don’t work in a fertility clinic. If you don’t want to perform abortions, don’t work in an abortion clinic. If you don’t want to operate on gays or non-Christians or whatnot in the emergency room… well, maybe you should have been a divinities or religious studies major instead of a doctor.
Concern 2: Non-Profit Status. Apparently, a church group in New Jersey refused to rent out their beachside pavilion to a same-sex couple for their civil union ceremony. Because of this, the pavilion’s tax-exempt status was revoked.
This is a contentious case. This case is probably the most reasonable argument put forward by the people at NOM and elsewhere. But ultimately, it doesn’t stand up to scrutiny.
First of all, this pavilion was operated as a public business. Its filing status and long history clearly indicated that it was a public venue rented out for a wide variety of civic and secular purposes. Its net proceeds [“profits”] may have gone to a religious non-profit, but it was open for business to the general public. Therefore, it is bound by anti-discrimination laws, just as a restaurant, movie theatre, or other business would be.
Second… revoking an organization’s tax exemption does not equate to revoking religious freedom. Only organizations which in some way serve the general public are granted exemptions from public taxes. If a church group or other religious organization wants to exclude entire identity groups from their rituals or services, they are free to do so. However, this classifies them as a private rather than public organization, and this may affect their tax exempt status accordingly.
Really, I think it’s weird that ANY churches or other purely religious organizations have tax exempt status. Tax exempt status is meant to reward organizations for serving the general public. It’s basically a way of “paying” the organization for filling a social or economic need that would otherwise be filled by public services.
But that’s another issue. If we assume that we’re going to give tax exemptions to religious organizations, then this exemption must surely be limited to their purely religious activities. It should not include economic activities which they conduct in a discriminatory manner.
Concern 3: Public Schools. Some public schools, including elementary schools, teach tolerance towards GLBT people and lifestyles. Some parents feel that this violates their right to educate their children as they see fit.
First of all, most if not all states allow home schooling. It’s more difficult in some states than in others, but to my knowledge, it’s not illegal in any state.
Second, the education provided in public schools is intended to prepare students for public life. Currently, we live in a society where GLBT individuals and lifestyles are in fact allowed to exist in the public sphere and are protected by anti-discrimination laws. Therefore, public schools *should* teach children to be tolerant of the GLBT community in the public sphere.
If you as a parent believe that homosexuality is sinful, evil, destructive to society, etc., then you can teach that to your children when they come home. You can also teach them that you believe that the laws should be changed and homosexuals should be forced back into the closet. In fact, it may even make sense to teach in public schools that some religious traditions oppose homosexuality entirely. This is important information for people to know, after all.
But ultimately, a public school is a public institution, and as such it should be teaching children how to function within the public sphere. And in the public sphere, people are not allowed to discriminate against other people on the basis of their sexual orientation. If you want to teach bigotry to your children, you’re going to have to do it on your own time, and on your own dime, not on the time and dime of the public school system.
So… those are three of the major concerns in this movement to oppose same-sex marriages. Now, allow me to propose a solution to this cultural conflict which, in theory, all sides should be able to live with. I didn’t come up with this proposal, but it’s a good one, so I’ve adopted it as my own and share it whenever I can.
The short version: Government has no place in defining marriage. Instead, government should define civil unions and leave the question of marriage in the hands of religious communities.
Now, a few words on the details…
Some religious people seem genuinely afraid that the government will start forcing them to alter their principles and practices surrounding deeply religious ceremonies such as marriage. As a deeply religious person myself, this concerns me too.
Therefore, the government should butt out of the marriage question entirely. Anyone who wants to get married — hetero or same-sex — will not have to ask the government for a marriage license. They will simply ask their clergy of choice to perform the ceremony for them, and it will be done. Once they have fulfilled any requirements of their faith, and participated in any ceremonies or rites of their faith, they will be married in the eyes of their faith.
A civil union, on the other hand, is a civic relationship — a contractual relationship that involves sharing of certain public rights and responsibilities such as child custody, property inheritance, power of attorney, and so on. People joined in a civil union are declaring that for all intents and purposes, they should be treated as the closest of kin. This union may be entered into by a heterosexual couple or a same-sex couple. It may even be open to people in certain other intimate relationships, such as platonic life partners [“best friends”] or people who do not wish anyone in their biological family to be their next-of-kin.
By fully separating the concepts of “marriage” and “civil union,” we allow the religious and spiritual aspects of this relationship to be handled by the religious community while the legal and public aspects are handled by public institutions. This way, religious people can oppose or reject whatever forms of marriage they like without interfering with the civil rights and free choices of other citizens.
Do you think same-sex relationships are sinful? Feel free to think that! Feel free to preach it from the pulpit and hand out as many glossy “family values” pamphlets as you like. Feel free to forbid anyone from the GLBT community from participating in your sacraments, including but not limited to marriage.
But allow the GLBT community the same degree of freedom. Let people form churches which do in fact perform same-sex marriages. Let all people, including GLBT people, enter into consensual contractual relationships (civil unions) with their loved ones in which they share their rights and their responsibilities with one another as if they were blood relations.
There you have it.
Questions? Comments? Affirmations? Rebuttals?
As always, you know where to find me.