Religious Freedom and Same Sex Marriage?

So, now enters the fray - religious freedom - a deeply American privilege  insured by the constitution and generally accepted as the rule within the walls of the United States - as a right whose arguments should be considered in light of the current legal conversations about same gender marriages.

Here is a well position article, to consider: Sexuality More Like Religion Than Race.

I wanted to weigh in on a couple of thoughts.

1. This is a legal not a moral decision. The laws of this land are designed, by in large, to protect the space needed for individuals and groups to freely practice their own morals and ideals. Even if I disagree with your morality, the law should generally protect your right to it. Perhaps the question is, how can the right to gay marriage be legalized in such a way as to not limited the rights of people who object to it? Is that an issue, after all?

2. Religious groups will not agree on the morality of same-sex marriage. They can't. The arguments - pro and con - appeal to their own sources of authority and unique interpretations of those sources.

It is this second point that strikes my world most often. My beliefs are informed by a minimum of 4 sources of authority. With all due credit to my United Methodist background, these sources are scripture, tradition, reason and experience. I believe each of these deserves consideration when making weighty decisions about matters of faith. However, in this debate, scripture gets quoted, flung, proof-texted until the congruence of it is lost.

Scripture - I come from a protestant Christian tradition. As such, 'scripture' refers primarily to the bible known as the Old and New Testaments. Interestingly enough, even the names of these collections reveals something about my prejudice. What I call the 'old' testament is in fact what another group would call the Hebrew scriptures or a portion of it the Torah. Yet another Christian group would say my 'scripture' is incomplete - missing certain apocryphal books.  Yet, because of the prejudice of my particular faith tradition, I place importance on the bible as I understand it's contents. It is the written record of the events and beliefs that inform my faith. It is worthy of study and understanding. However, I cannot usually discuss the role and message of scripture with people - even of the same faith tradition - with any success, if we don't agree on our understanding of the role of that material in the formation of belief. I am not a biblical literal-ist (I'm not even sure what that exactly means), and if someone else is, if they read the scripture as a flawless life map of instruction - then we had best find something else to talk about, because we are going to disagree on many things.

The legal issue of same-sex marriage isn't going to be decided by religious and theological agreement, nor should it be. It is an issue of providing a safe and non-punitive space for individuals to follow their own beliefs. American society will change to allow for adult people of the same gender to enter into a marriage contract. It will happen sooner or it will happen later, but it will happen. The proverbial cat is out of the bag, now and as our society evolves, it will grow in it's acceptance of same-gender marriage. Too many people have accumulated reasons - life experience, rational arguments and traditions (newly formed, but traditions nonetheless) - and these life experiences are paving the way for the fall of previously accepted prohibitions and judgments.

Since we are to make this journey, we must find a path to allow for both religious freedom (for differing parties) and legally protected space for a variance of life style. This is a difficult space, likely to be fraught with fear, uncertainty and limitations. What can we do to be loving and caring as we move through?

1 comment:

  1. There is, perhaps, a useful comparison to be drawn with the experience of my own faith tradition (Quakerism).

    I imagine that most informed people know that Quakers have been famously pacifist for over 350 years now, a fact which has certainly not prevented either the U.S. government or the British Crown before it from waging a number of wars over the same period.

    Quaker responses to these armed conflicts have covered a fairly broad range, from military service (often accompanied by religious consequences such as expulsion), to various forms of noncombative alternative service (often as medical personnel), to officially recognized Conscientious Objector status (often combined with alternative service of some sort), to outright and absolute refusal to participate in the war effort in any manner whatsoever.

    In return, our society’s range of responses to pacifist stances like the Quaker Peace Testimony has been similarly broad, from sanctioning conscientious objection (with or without requiring alternative service or the payment of a fine or hiring of a substitute), to imprisonment and/or encouraging or overlooking mob violence. Generally, however, as long as would-be COs follow certain prescribed steps (usually including registering themselves in some fashion) and avoid doing things like withholding the part of their Federal income taxes that would otherwise go to support the national military budget, they receive official and governmental toleration and some measure of protection from unsanctioned acts of violence on the part of inflamed crowds.

    The same would probably be true of legally recognized same-sex unions. Some faith traditions will refuse to recognize or sanction any such couples – to the point of expelling them from the congregation and/or denying them participation in the life of the congregation. This is their right. Other groups, however, will welcome and affirm such individuals, as is their legal right, and any trouble – if it comes – will be due to the actions of minority groups that refuse to acknowledge the civil law of the land and try to force everyone else in the country to abide by their value system, a pattern which has occurred more than once in American history.


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