In its latest issue Time magazine has an article that must have had its headline written by the U. S. Catholic Bishops since it would have readers believe that gay marriage is pitting the issue of civil liberties against religious liberties. Nothing could be further than the truth. The only thing the spread of gay marriage is doing is long belatedly pushing one set of religious beliefs out of the nation's civil laws. The deeply religious and those who cling to religion-based bigotry are still 100 percent free to hold their beliefs and to practice their beliefs - they simply can no longer inflict them on everyone else in the carte blanche manner that has been the unfortunate custom for so many years. It's this inability to make others live in accordance with the beliefs of these self-centered and intolerant individuals and churches - be it on the issue of contraception, abortion, or the rights of religious minorities - that is being decried as an assault on religious liberty.
The False Claim of a Clash Between Civil and Religious Liberties
The claim that religious freedom is being attacked is a lie - like just about everything that comes out of the mouths of the Christianists and Catholic bishops. Here are some highlights from the article:
[W]hat can be said for sure is that the New York legislation will nationalize the gay marriage debate in a way that no other step in the long campaign has. "A significantly larger percentage of the country now lives in states with marriage equality for gays and lesbians," constitutional law scholar Erwin Chemerinsky, dean of the University of California, Irvine law school, told Time. "That is important on so many levels. It shows that the trend continues in this direction and that it is just a matter of time before it is throughout the country. It will help fuel the on-going shift in public opinion.
Al Mohler, president of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Ky., told Time that New York's impact on the rest of the country can't be overstated. "The New York vote is massively important - perhaps even pivotal," he said. This is due, not only to the size of the state's population, but to the political process by which the Governor and leading Republicans pushed this through the New York Senate. We should expect these same tactics to appear elsewhere."
In one sense, the most immediate impact of the New York legislation, beyond the obvious fact that more gays will now marry, is the way the 10 days of political wrangling in Albany came to a head over nearly intractable issues of religious liberty. While Chemerinsky told Time that the furor was in some ways overblown -- "No religion has to marry anyone it does not want to marry. I think that this was a misleading argument."
No one is arguing that the Catholic Church, or any church, must marry a gay couple - and the protections written into law in New York saying so were probably redundant. But the New York law went further than merely restating the constitutionally obvious. It also wrote into law the right for all religious institutions - hospitals, adoption services - and so-called benevolent organizations to refuse to not just marry gay couples but the right to refuse accommodating their weddings, too.
Some saw the religious-based objections to gay marriage as mere pretext for deeper, and harder-to-express public antipathy towards homosexuality. And others, like Mohler, see the provisions as mere fig leaves for defecting conservatives who wanted cover for their votes n favor of marriage. But whatever their political uses, the religious protections point to one aspect of the New York vote that will resonate throughout the country as the issue advances elsewhere.
"Legislative reluctance to enact basic civil rights protections that others can take for granted - or do not need - looks increasingly ideological and out of date, a throwback to another era. The New York vote is a bright arrow pointed toward the future - a future that many welcome, but that others, of course, continue to perceive with something more akin to dread."
Count Mohler in the latter group. For him, the country has been down this divisive path before - and it's nothing to look forward to. "It now appears that the nation is moving in the direction of a divided map on the issue of marriage," he told Time. "I predict that this map might look much like the map of the U.S. on legalized abortion prior to Roe v. Wade." If he is right, then we may be fighting over gay marriage 40 years from now, no matter how the Supreme Court rules should it ever hear the California case.