New Hampshire became the sixth state to let gay couples wed. The new law was approved after revisions exempted members of the clergy from having to perform same-sex weddings and religious groups and their employees from having to participate in such ceremonies. Polls say regular churchgoers are more likely to support gay marriage with these ‘religious liberty reassurances.’ Is this a good solution to the divisive issue of gay marriage?
Of course the New Hampshire solution is a good one, but there is nothing new or unusual about it. No one in the United States has ever contemplated requiring members of the clergy to perform marriage ceremonies that violate their faith. That is just another canard of the Christian right.
State licensing of marriages is completely separate from religious marriage ceremonies. You may choose to be married by a priest, minister, rabbi, imam or Pagan priestess, but unless a marriage license is registered with the state, you are not legally married. Many rabbis refuse to marry interfaith couples. A divorced Roman Catholic may not remarry within the church unless he or she has obtained a Vatican annulment of any previous marriage performed by a Catholic priest. In similar fashion, God’s self-appointed representatives on earth may refuse to marry gay couples if they believe those couples are destined for hell.
Since I can’t imagine why any gay couple would want to be married by a hostile member of the clergy, I don’t understand why anyone considers this an issue. But I suppose there are enough uninformed voters who think that an “exemption” is necessary to prevent clergy members from being forced by the state to marry gays. The state allows clergy to perform marriage ceremonies; it does not require them to do so. Your minister may refuse to marry you for any reason–say, having eyes that make him think you’re Lucifer.You don’t need to be gay to be excluded from the marriage ceremonies of a particular church.
I must say that the amount of effort expended on this issue–both by gays determined to have the same right to legally sanctioned bliss or boredom as heterosexuals and by the modern Anthony Comstocks determined to keep gay sex in the closet (whether their own closets or someone else’s)–is mystifying, given the severity of the national and international problems we all share. The tide in favor of gay marriage is inexorable; polls show over and over that the majority of people under 30 don’t have the slightest interest in denying gays the right to marry. Yet the fervid religious right is still spending immense amounts of money to defeat gay marriage proposals at the state level. And I daresay that gay rights groups might prefer to spend their money on other political issues. Time and demography are on the side of gay marriage.
Of course, one group will derive particular benefit from the legalization of gay marriage in most areas of the country. Divorce lawyers specializing in gay marital breakups will have more business than they can handle seven years from today. Counselors for miserably married gay couples will proliferate. Since gays are now following heterosexuals in spending excessive amounts of money on a one-day extravaganza to declare their eternal love and commitment, they will surely have to spend as much money as heterosexuals on getting divorced. It’s The American Way.
LAST WEEK IN REVIEW
To those of you who were concerned about my absence from the blog for part of last week: you flatter me. I will disappear from time to time, for as much as a week, this summer. Jacoby’s First Commandment of Vacation: Thou shalt not enter the blogosphere, yea, though the earth should crumble without thy weekly dose of advice. Rest assured, I shall return.
Someone asserted last week (as someone frequently does) that while the crimes of religion against human rights are well-known, secular crimes (the Gulag was cited) are never mentioned. Nonsense. Most writers are skittish about discussing religious crimes against human rights unless they are at least 500 years old. The Gulag–hardly an unnoticed phenomenon–was the product of a secular religion that exhibited the main characteristic of all religion: imperviousness to evidence. Stalinist communism didn’t work economically, but because communism was wedded to the state (as the Orthodox Church had been wedded to the Russian state before the Bolshevik revolution), the response of the state was to imprison dissidents and a great many others.
Stalin, as some of you probably know, was a seminarian before he became a Bolshevik. The secular values of which I always speak have nothing in common with a non-evidence based ideology like Stalinism or Maoism. One of the chief values of the Enlightenment was, “If one thing doesn’t work, admit it and try another.” That’s how we got a federal government–because a loose confederation of states didn’t work. And I repeat: the secular values of Thomas Paine, Voltaire, Thomas Jefferson et al are values that respect the diginity of individual judgement and conscience. They are the values that led to our constitution and its Bill of Rights.
It is the union of religion and government, not all religion, that is the absolute enemy of individual rights. Stalinist communism, like many religions, was an unmodifiable ideology wed to state power. It’s no surprise that since the dissolution of the Soviet Union, the Russian Orthodox Church has once again become a religion privileged by the state.And in this new Russia, freedom of speech (and, by the way, freedom of religion) is once again endangered.
The sole reason why many religions appear tolerant today is that their power has been limited by decent secular governments, secular law, and secular values. This is not to say that all systems of secular thought are good, and all religions bad. It is to say that the secular values written into our Bill of Rights derive not from religion but from reason and that they–not pronouncements from a pope or rabbi or imam, not selective passages from the Bible or the Koran–are the source of our liberty.
To the person who said I apparently lived in a world in which only montheistic religion counts, I remind you that the question concerned what Obama said to the Muslim world. Christianity, Judaism, and Islam are the only religions that do count on issues involving the Middle East. Have I missed something? Have Hindus laid claim to the “holy land?” However, Hinduism is hardly a model for respect for the dignity of all people. As far as women’s rights are concerned, Hinduism’s historical record is even worse than that of the montheistic religions.