In some ultra-conservative circles, as well as amongst certain groups of Christians and misguided religious zealots, the issue of gay marriage has become the cause cÃ©lÃ¨bre du jour. [I use the term ‘misguided’ to refer to bigoted and backward thinking not in tune, in my view, with modern religious and philosophical opinions]. I propose to discuss a typical article from the right of the political spectrum which casts aspersions upon the concept of gay marriage as a constitutional right that must be respected under the law and protected from bigoted attacks disguised as authentic religious beliefs claiming also to be constitutionally protected. I will attempt to demonstrate that gay marriages should be constitutionally protected and that no religious objections to it are worthy of respect on legal, ethical, or moral grounds.
The article in question is by an ultra-right political journalist Charlotte Allen and was published on May 1 on the op-ed page of The Wall Street Journal: “Modern Sin: Holding On to Your Belief.” What is the belief at issue? Socialists and other progressives don’t usually think in terms of “sin.” The term “politically incorrect” is the one that we prefer. To hold on to, and act upon, discredited beliefs such as racism, sexism, fascism, xenophobic nationalism, chauvinisms of all kinds including religious chauvinisms, and certain kinds of behaviors that are dishonest, socially destructive of people’s well being, and many more too numerous to list here are considered not to be politically correct (PC).
So the question to be addressed by the WSJ article should really be what beliefs are people holding on to, and acting upon, that are not PC and, in religious jargon, are “sins” against other human beings and hurtful to them. If your notion of the deity includes the idea that It wants you to act in a hurtful way to other human beings, attacking their rights and happiness in order to make you feel better about your own, my article will hopefully convince you that you are wrong and have a false notion of what “sin” is all about.
Ms. Allen’s article is a sympathetic account of the trials and tribulations of small business owners whose bigoted interpretation of religion has led them to discriminate against gay couples who wish to marry. Their arguments are not unlike those given a few generations ago by those who also discriminated against interracial couples on religious grounds.
There are, Ms. Allen points out, a small group of [misguided Christian] “bakers, florists, and photographers” who maintain that “their Christian beliefs in man-woman marriages preclude their providing services to same-sex marriages.” Well, “Christian beliefs” are also opposed to pagan ceremonies and polytheistic worship but they don’t seem to preclude people from baking, taking pictures or providing flowers for Hindu wedding ceremonies. There are “Christian beliefs” against divorce but are divorced people getting married again refused these services?
Businesses open to the public must serve the public in a non discriminatory way. A misguided Christian restaurant owner is not entitled to tell a couple of same sex individuals they will not be served if he overhears that their meal is a wedding brunch. Or is he? This is the issue. Does freedom of religion include the freedom to discriminate and impose your beliefs on others in the public arena?
It seems that these “Christian” business people are committing acts of common bigotry under the guise of “acts of [selective] conscience.” Ms Allen supports the business people involved. She presents the case of a Southern Baptist florist who was fined for refusing to serve a gay wedding because she claimed to have a personal relationship with her friend “Jesus”, who is allegedly anti-gay marriage. This defense against anti-discrimination laws did not impress the lower courts in Washington State and is now on appeal. Her case would be strengthened if she could present her friend as a witness. But I doubt “Jesus” will appear since his constituency includes both gay and non gay people which makes this not a question of “Christian” belief so much as one of personal interpretation.
Ms Allen thinks holding misguided “Christians” responsible for their bigoted actions (no one should object to their private or public beliefs only their public activities if they impinge upon the rights of others under the law) goes against former California Supreme Court Justice Ronald M.George’s statement that: “Affording same-sex couples the same opportunity to obtain the designation of marriage will not impinge upon the religious freedom of any religious organization, official or any other person.” Ms. Allen is, of course, wrong and the Judge is right.
“Religious freedom” is not absolute in the US. It is freedom to practice your religion under the law. For instance, American Muslims do not have the freedom to marry four wives, people cannot practice human sacrifice, people of one sect are not free to behead those of a different sect, and Amish elders don’t have the right to debeard their opponents, and people considered to be heretics, sacrilegious, or blasphemous cannot be burned at the stake or otherwise dispatched.
All of these practices are, be it noted, sincerely held religious beliefs, some of them by Christians, and to the list should be added discriminatory practices and hateful deeds directed against gay people or any other subsections of society which lawfully seek to enjoy life and peacefully practice their beliefs and lifestyles in ways not detrimental to the legally protected rights of others. Businesses serving the public whether they be caterers, bakeries, florist shops, photo stores and studios, wedding planners or any business permitted to engage in services by the state should not, and generally cannot, discriminate against people based on their race, religion (or lack of religion), sex, gender preferences, ethnic origins, looks or age, etc. This means that individuals or groups, including institutionalized religious organizations cannot engage in discriminatory practices against others based on their own shared and practiced beliefs and feelings. They can do as they please so long as it is legally permitted and does not infringe upon the legal rights of others. If there are existing laws permitting such discriminatory actions they must be repealed.
If you have a sincerely held religious belief that same sex marriage is immoral and against the will of God (although God is quite capable I should think to see to it that his will is not violated without any help from humans) then no one can force you to marry someone of the same sex. It is wrong, however, for you to seek to prevent others from engaging in same sex marriage or refuse to serve them if you have a business open to the public.
Ms. Allen fears that if the Supreme Court finds that gay marriage is a constitutional right then a “persecution of Christians” will follow. All that will follow is that Christians and others, who have a long history of persecutions against others themselves, will find it more difficult, if not impossible, to engage in the hate crimes and discriminatory behavior against gay people that they believe their imaginary deity requires of them. I say “imaginary” because no purportedly perfect and good deity would countenance such behavior and truly religious persons should consider it a sacrilege to believe otherwise.
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This post was written by Thomas Riggins