It’s entirely possible that, when it comes to gay marriage and the First Amendment, pluralism won’t work.
Rodney King got his 15 minutes of fame for (a) getting beaten up while resisting arrest; (b) having his name attached to some horrific riots; and (c) plaintively asking “Can we get along?” The last is a great thought. I’d like to get along with people better myself. “Getting along,” though, presupposes that people have the same goals and values. In our pluralist society, even when we have differences, we mostly limp along all right. Elections shuttle different value systems in and out of power and (at least when the unions aren’t rioting) Americans expect a peaceful transition.
Still, even pluralist societies have bottom line values, things as to which we’re not willing to bend (although, lately, it’s getting harder to pinpoint just what those values are). Up until recently, one of those values was that “marriage qua marriage” was a one man, one woman deal. In recent years, we were willing to contemplate “civil unions,” but “marriage” remained sacrosanct.
Also, because of the First Amendment, another American bottom-line is that the government cannot meddle in religious doctrine. Some confused people think the First Amendment outlaws religion, or outlaws religious people from participating in politics, but most understand that — unless they’re calling for human or animal sacrifice, or polygamy — the American government leaves religion alone.
I have said all along that the main problem with the gay marriage debate is that, by creating an entirely new bottom line (gay marriage) we’re going to see two bottom lines crash into each other. You see, traditional male/female marriage meshed nicely with the vast majority of traditional religious norms. Gay marriage, however, does not mesh with traditional religion. While Progressive churches and synagogues have opened their doors to gay marriages, more traditional ones, especially the Orthodox Jewish faith and the Catholic Church, have not done so.
When I’ve raised this concern to people, they scoffed. One liberal told me that, even though abortions are legal, the government has never gone toe-to-toe with the Catholic Church. He looked a bit taken aback, and had no response, when I pointed out that the Catholic Church doesn’t provide, or withhold, abortions; it simply speaks against them doctrinally. The Church does, however, marry people, and that leaves open the possibility that a gay couple will sue the church for refusing to perform a marriage service.
Others, while acknowledging that my point has a certain intellectual validity, say that it will never happen. I’m not so sure, especially after reading a story out of England involving a Pentecostal couple who were told that, as long as their religion held that homosexuality is not acceptable behavior, they could not foster needy children:
A Christian couple morally opposed to homosexuality today lost a High Court battle over the right to become foster carers.
Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65, from Oakwood, Derby, went to court after a social worker expressed concerns when they said they could not tell a child a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ was acceptable.
The Pentecostal Christian couple had applied to Derby City Council to be respite carers but withdrew their application believing it was ‘doomed to failure’ because of the social worker’s attitude to their religious beliefs.
The couple deny that they are homophobic and said they would love any child they were given. However, what they were ‘not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing’.
What’s relevant to this post is that the judges explicitly held that homosexual rights trump religious rights:
Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation ‘should take precedence’ over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.
Admitted, Britain does not have a First Amendment. However, as I noted above, First Amendment or not, our government bars, and (when Mormons are involved) actively prosecutes, polygamy. It does so despite the fact that polygamy was official doctrine for the Mormons and is official doctrine for the Muslims. Likewise, although Voodoo is recognized as a religion, we don’t let practitioners engage in animal sacrifice. In other words, First Amendment or not, the government will interfere in religious doctrine if it runs completely afoul of a bottom-line American value.
If gay marriage is deemed Constitutional, we suddenly have two conflicting bottom-line values — gay marriage and religious freedom. I’m not predicting how this will turn out. I’m just saying that, if I was the Catholic Church or an Orthodox synagogue, I’d start having my lawyers look at this one now.
Cross-posted at Bookworm Room