Prop. 8 and Religious Liberty

May 26, 2009, 3:13 pm | Posted by

Today, California upheld Prop. 8, taking away same-sex marriage rights in the state but leaving as valid the marriages of couples who wed under California’s same-sex marriage law before election day.

With the ruling comes the resurfacing of serious misinformation opponents of same-sex marriage have been spreading in the Prop. 8 fight and in campaigns across the country.

For instance, the National Organization for Marriage (NOM) celebrated the ruling as a victory for “civil rights.”

One of NOM’s leading arguments (see their “Gathering Storm” ad that got a lot of play in the media) has been that same-sex marriage is a threat to religious liberty. While there certainly have been clashes between particular religious groups and proponents of GLBT rights, NOM’s claim that marriage poses a particular threat to religious groups is overblown, at best.

Take the examples from their very own “Gathering Storm” Background Facts site. While each of these cases does appear to present a conflict between religious groups and gay rights, a closer look reveals it’s not so cut and dried.

While NOM claims to focus only on marriage, not other legal benefits and rights for same-sex couples (scroll down to talking point 6 under FAQs) one of their examples takes place in a state where same-sex marriage isn’t even legal. As HRC points out, the New Jersey and California examples “are really about state laws against sexual orientation discrimination, rather than specifically about marriage.”

NOM’s third example, the “Massachusetts parent helplessly watching public schools teach… that gay marriage is OK,” doesn’t seem to take a very high view of a parent’s ability to shape his/her child’s values.

After all, the government’s willingness to re-marry divorced persons does not render a conservative Catholic parent “helpless” in teaching her child that divorce (without an annulment) and remarriage are wrong according to their values.

The Catholic example is actually pretty fitting when it comes down to arguments about same-sex marriage and religious liberty. As Andrew Sullivan has noted:

…Catholic doctrine is that marriage is for life. Divorce is not the end of that marriage in the eyes of God. And yet Catholics can tolerate fellow citizens who are not Catholic calling their non-marriages marriages – because Catholics have already accepted a civil-religious distinction. They can wear both hats in the public square.

Catholics and other people of faith would be able to continue to wear both of these hats should same-sex marriage continue to be legalized across the country. In fact, we already see the results of robust legal protection for religious groups, particularly for clergy, who are allowed to practice the teachings of their religion even when it conflicts with state employment laws. Churches will not be forced to ordain gay clergy (as Catholics are not forced by the government to ordain women) or marry gay couples–clergy have always been able to decide who they would marry (for example, many rabbis won’t officiate interfaith marriage ceremonies).

As HRC says:

Granting marriage rights to same-sex couples would not require leaders of Christian, Jewish, Islamic or any other religious leaders to perform these marriages. It would not require religious institutions to permit these ceremonies to be held on their grounds. It would not even require that religious communities discuss the issue. People of faith would remain free to make their own judgments about what makes a marriage in the eyes of God — just as they are today.

add a comment »

Setting the record straight on hate crimes

April 30, 2009, 5:33 pm | Posted by

The Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Act of 2009 passed the House of Representatives yesterday (249-175). Among other things the bill, broadens federal hate crimes protection to include persons targeted because of “gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability,” and it’s been the subject of a great deal of misinformation in the media. The spin comes in many forms and appears in many places:

CBN News uses “he said/she said” reporting that puts the bill’s supporters’ verifiable statements and opponents’ highly speculative claims on equal footing:

Conservatives and Christians warn that if the bill becomes law, it could eventually lead to criminalizing preaching against homosexuality. But supporters of the bill say free speech is still protected.

The Washington Times reads hate crime legislation supporters’ minds:

But the motivation isn’t about punishing crime as much as it is about controlling certain thoughts and views.

On Fox News, Molly Henneberg relies on pure speculation to drag the red herring of gay marriage into the issue:

…they may be prosecuted for their religious beliefs if they believe that homosexuality is a sin, that it could gag ministers who preach that, or even if a church may not want to marry a gay couple. There is concern that they could face lawsuits as well.

OneNewsNow relies on a lone source who makes false claims:

The U.S. House of Representatives has approved legislation that one conservative Christian activist says protects bizarre sexual orientations and threatens the free speech of those who dare speak out publicly against homosexuality.

These reports disregard the actual content of the bill, which defines a hate crime as follows:

`(A) IN GENERAL- Whoever, whether or not acting under color of law, in any circumstance described in subparagraph (B), willfully causes bodily injury to any person or, through the use of fire, a firearm, or an explosive or incendiary device, attempts to cause bodily injury to any person, because of the actual or perceived religion, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or disability of any person-

The bill explicitly protects the religious liberty and free speech of religious groups that oppose homosexuality and preach against it (see Sections 6 and 8). CBN’s false equivalence, the Washington Times’ attribution of sinister motive, Fox’s utterly fanciful speculation, and OneNewsnow’s falsehood all portray the bill as criminalization of religious belief and speech, when in fact it only pertains to physical violence.

See Third Way’s outstanding Q&A sheet for a thorough straightening of the record.

add a comment »

A reconciliation on gay marriage?

February 23, 2009, 1:47 pm | Posted by

Strange bedfellows Jonathan Rauch and David Blankenhorn mapped out an interesting federal policy proposal on same-sex marriage in yesterday’s New York Times:

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill…

At the same time, federal law links many important perquisites to marital status, including Social Security survivor benefits, tax-free inheritance, spousal immigration rights and protections against mutual incrimination. All of these benefits are currently denied to same-sex couples, even those living in states that permit same-sex marriage or civil unions. But these same benefits could be conferred by federally recognized civil unions.

This was the first airing of this policy I’ve seen. My quick search for blog reactions today didn’t turn up too many hits, but here’re a few. (Note, please click through — my excerpts don’t encapsulate their entire arguments.)

Mark Silk: Well meaning as it is, the proposal…seems to me a half-way house that will have trouble standing. But the cry of distress from Rod Dreher about the “fast erosion of religious liberty in America” paints with far too broad a brush.

Update: Andrew Sullivan: My worry is the federalist one: I don’t see why the federal government should refuse to recognize what various states decide to call a civil marriage. As for strong religious liberty exception clauses, I have absolutely no objection… I don’t believe that allowing gay couples to marry will violate religious freedom any more than, say, legal civil divorce hurts the Catholic Church.

Street Prophets diarist I T: Yes, I am very uncomfortable with giving basic civil rights a religious exemption. And, what happens to gay people who live in viciously anti-gay states…BUT, if the idea is to find a compromise, a starting place, and if it can bring together such disparate views as the authors’, I think it has merit, at least for discussion.

Pam Spaulding: OK. I have a problem with this already, though I see where they are trying to accomplish — getting same-sex couples access to the rights and benefits of civil marriage and cede the word marriage to those who cannot decouple it from religious marriage in their heads…but Blankenhorn and Rauch’s solution, by accommodating the “misunderstanding” about the word marriage — rather than redefining it (something that has occurred countless times in the past), chooses to draw an institutionalized line of discrimination.

TNR’s Damon Linker: Sounds reasonable to me — provided that the Supreme Court allowed such a law to stand. In its current configuration, tilted slightly to the right, it just might. But after a couple of Obama appointments? I’d put the likelihood of a more liberal court overturning a federal civil unions law on equal protection (or other) grounds as pretty darn high.

add a comment »

The people have spoken…

November 6, 2008, 4:29 pm | Posted by

Having grown up in the oh-so-old-fashioned commonwealth of Virginia, I’ve never seen a ballot initiative up close and personal. I’ve never signed a petition to get one on the ballot. Never voted for or against it. Never attended a rally protesting the results (as one of my friends in California did last night). My political junkie-ness has generally been confined to candidate races.

Needless to say, I find ballot initiatives oddly fascinating. There were a lot this election cycle– 153, in fact.

These initiatives ran the gamut–from “death with dignity”/right to die in Washington (which passed) to more humane treatment of farm animals in California (which appears to have passed).

The outcomes of these initiatives are interesting, especially in light of the “culture war” rhetoric Sarah Palin infused into the campaign. While McCain calls himself a federalist and believes marital law should be left to the states, Palin spoke out in favor of a federal amendment to ban gay marriage. (She also supported a 1998 ballot in Alaska to ban same-sex marriage. )

Bans of this type were on the ballot this week in three states: Florida, California, and Arizona. All passed.

On the other hand, three states had initiatives about reproductive rights, all of which went the more liberal direction. South Dakota defeated a stringent near-ban on abortion, California defeated a parental notification requirement, and a “personhood” amendment in Colorado was soundly turned down.

So, all three anti-gay rights measures passed and all three anti-abortion measures failed. In a time of economic anxiety and a growing desire to find common ground, it’s not surprising to me that these “wedge” issues didn’t entirely motivate voters the way social conservatives wanted. But it’s still interesting that in an election cycle where even white evangelicals– typically a socially conservative bunch– didn’t rank abortion or same-sex marriage as one of their top five concerns, same-sex marriage bans passed.

Also interesting is the role of young voters here. It’s still not clear to me whether youth turnout was as high as suggested/anticipated, but if it had been, I would’ve expected the inverse.

After all, young evangelicals are even more staunchly anti-abortion than their parents. The Colorado “personhood amendment” was actually drafted by a young, conservative evangelical Christian and endorsed by local stalwarts of the Religious Right– Focus on the Family.

On the other hand, young evangelicals are much more open and accepting of gays and lesbians. Over 50% of this group approve of either same-sex marriage or civil unions.

This election was certainly not animated by these hot-button issues as elections past have been, and for that I’m grateful. I think Americans have a lot more to talk about, to work together on, and to make progress on than abortion and gay marriage. But I’m still puzzled… any ideas?

P.S. Stay tuned for more ballot initiative analysis tomorrow!

add a comment »

Pro gay rights Republicans support. . .

October 10, 2007, 1:54 pm | Posted by

the old Mitt Romney

Now social moderates are not taking prisoners when is comes to flip-flopping when pandering to the Religious Right.

The Times, (Washington that is), writes:

The 30-second ad, airing in Iowa and on Fox News for the next 10 days, portrays the former Massachusetts governor as changing his positions on abortion, gun rights, even his opinion of former President Ronald Reagan. Paid for by the Log Cabin Republicans, a homosexual rights organization, the ad uses Mr. Romney’s own words from a 1994 debate.

add a comment »