Monday, January 31, 2011

Marriage Equality and the Freedom of Religion

Among the many different arguments for and against equality in marriage, there is subtle, if not blatantly, overlooked point about the freedom of religion (in addition to the unrelenting prejudices). If one really thinks about the marriage issue as that being presented by those supporting so-called “traditional marriages”, there is a direct correlation to the freedom of religion and how they believe religion should be taught or expressed in public law. These religious right advocates want to codify in Constitutional amendments specific religious doctrines and to whittle away at the freedom of religion for everyone else.

There is an understanding that the purpose of the Bill of Rights (both at the state-level and the federal level) is to protect the minority from the impeding or disabling whims and wishes of the majority. Further, religious right advocates often declare that the media and the left are persecuting religious freedom by silencing religious speech or religious expressions in public, not to mention allowing LGBT people to have a voice in the discussion (or any so-called “special” rights or marriage equality). The call for marriage to exclude same-gender couples is often, if not boisterously, based in a particular “mainline” Christian tradition of heterosexual marriage. Yet, there are plenty of so-called “mainline” Christian faiths (as well as other religious faiths) that accept same-gender couples into marriage.

These same religious-rights advocates have categorized those same equality-supporting Christian churches in line with un-believers or not true followers of the “word of God”. Sometimes those advocates argue that the churches that support equality in marriage are merely a disguise for some unholy ritualistic paganism (e.g. un-Christian). Incidentally, this is comparable to the Ayatollah of Iran or Osama bin Laden labeling groups as infidels because their brand of Islam or religious faith is not pure enough. This relegates all of the churches, synagogues, or mosques in terms of who has the correct belief system. By attempting to codify that belief system in law, they are subverting the reason and establishment of the bill of rights protections with respect to religion. It would be perfectly logical to follow that reasoning to suggest that one church should receive preferential treatment since the law recognizes their particular faith tenets over others’ tenets.

Thus, the state has to decide whether to be mixed up in the religious debate. The rights of people in this country are founded upon the consensus of reasonable discourse from all religions with respect to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness where people have the equal rights to protect themselves and their property from unwarranted harm. We see this in laws with regard to murder, property and harassment. People, before the law, are to be treated equally and fairly. If the state founds its civic marriage on the parallel religious marriages, then we can not exclude those religions that recognize same-gender couples marriages into that commitment. To do otherwise is to protect some religious faiths while denying the religious belief of others and to inject a particular religion into public law. This consequence appears to be congenial with Bob Vander Plaats and Chuck Hurley as long as it is their brand of religion in law.

The state could simply not recognize all civic marriages, but we know from all sorts of studies that promotion of marriages is a compelling interest of that state. Obviously, the religious right regards civic marriage to be a partial integration of civic and religious conduct (similar to how the Christmas holiday is recognized). Otherwise, the discussion over civic recognition of marriage for same-gender couples would not be an issue. We also know from the growing set of academic research that children growing up in households with couples (straight or gay) will do better in school and life. As well, there is no harm that is committed to others, or even other marriages, by allowing people to marry without the blessing of a church. Thus, civic marriage has a state purpose for fulfilling a civilized and productive society. Yet, the religious right only wants the state to recognize marriages as defined by their own faiths and therefore, in a way, they want to control the public law and protections to exclude those that do not follow those particular faiths. Ironically and essentially, they want to use public law to persecute and to ridicule people for not following their self-avowed “true” faith.

The erosion of rights, by defining who has them and who does not have the rights, beckons the parallel chronology asserted in George Orwell’s Animal Farm where established and codified rights were slowly and systematically taken away based upon false numbers and eventually upon the pretext that some “are more equal than others.”  Again, no person or group of people is more equal than others before the law, and likewise, no one religion is more equal than another before the law that protects the free expression of religion. No majority can simply redefine that protection in order to justify the persecution of minorities or to require those minorities to follow a particular religious doctrine.

If we limit marriage to that defined by only some mainline religions, the next logical part of this discussion is to question who gets to perform marriages, where are they performed and if those marriages can be nullified. Perhaps, we codify marriages  and annulments only recognized by the Vatican; only those marriages recognized by churches of over 1000 members; marriages that cannot birth their own offspring should be annulled; or marriages only recognized in exchange for an obligatory tithe to a specific church? The law should not be subject to religious edicts or Salem-witch-trial type board for approval unless we mean to reject the sanctity of civil rights protections. The arguments against marriage equality look more and more like thinly veiled disguises for claims that one religious faith is better (e.g. “more equal”) than the others. Essentially, the state should not be in the business of arguing religious doctrines with respect to marriage given the civic interest in perpetuating marriage outside of religion.

This is also posted online with other research and commentaries at http://www.iowapolicyresearch.org/