A bill legalizing same-sex marriage for couples in New York State is at a standstill over the issue of exemptions for religious organizations and individuals. The reach of these religious protections is wide-ranging -from whether Catholic adoption agencies may reject same-sex couples, to the right of religious caterers to refuse services for gay weddings. In New York State’s Marriage Equality Act, should there be exemptions for religion? What should happen when equal rights for gay citizens and the right to religious free exercise clash?
To me, same-sex marriage is a no-brainer and long overdue. Equal treatment under the law is not a radical idea. Same-sex couples should have the same rights, benefits, and protections as opposite-sex couples.
The New York State bill would not require religious institutions to perform same-sex or any other marriage they deem religiously incorrect. Religious freedom allows religions to discriminate and make rules for its faithful, but not for those outside the faith. The government has no right to make decisions about religious marriage and religions have no right to make decisions about civil marriage.
Religious freedom goes both ways. It makes no more sense for a religion to decide on my civil rights than it does for me to decide which dead people should be declared saints. I’m troubled by the way some religions discriminate against women, against gays and lesbians, against those of different or no faith, and against all who don’t subscribe to a very narrow religious doctrine. But as an advocate for freedom of religion, I acknowledge their right to take such positions.
Some give biblical justification that marriage should be between a man and a woman, just as a couple of generations ago they gave biblical justification that marriage should be between members of the same race. I could just as easily give biblical justification for marriage being between a man and no more than 700 women (I Kings 11:3). Solomon had 700 wives and 300 concubines, which means his brain was not his most remarkable organ. Those who wish to make civil laws compatible with a particular interpretation of a so-called holy book might think about moving to one of the many theocratic countries.
Those who claim a loss of religious freedom if couples of the same sex are allowed to marry should at least be honest enough to admit they are simply opposed to marriage between couples of the same sex. I doubt that any gay couples would want to give money to a homophobic caterer for a wedding. I’m hoping some religions will modify discriminatory policies when they see a loss of revenue.
While I’m disappointed we are arguing about the legality of same-sex marriage, I’m also pleased, because this wasn’t even an issue a generation ago. I think public opinion is moving toward equality for all, and I predict a future generation will wonder why anyone ever opposed same-sex marriage just as this generation wonders why anyone ever supported miscegenation laws.
Herb Silverman | Jun 22, 2011 10:53 AM