Tag Archives: same-sex marriage

Misunderstanding Religious Freedom

It was refreshing to read New York Times column responding to the recent–and I must say, weird and troubling–ruminations on same-sex marriage issued by Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito.

The reason I label these “opinions” weird is that they were not dissents, not even concurrences. They were peevish outbursts–not far removed from “get off my lawn” explosions by cranky old guys. I’m unaware of other instances in which Supreme Court Justices used a unanimous and otherwise predictable decision as an opportunity to simply gripe that the world wasn’t going their way.

As David Von Drehle wrote,

It was an odd document, not a dissent; just a four-page grumble about matters that may someday be a problem depending on the facts of unknown future cases. The justices might consider woodworking, because, from the looks of this, they don’t have enough to keep them busy. The statement, which carries no legal weight, is essentially a cry from the heart on behalf of Americans whose religious views condemn same-sex marriage. Fair enough: The freedom to hold beliefs different from those of the mainstream is a cherished aspect of American liberty. But the statement crosses into sophistry by suggesting that religious liberties are somehow infringed if they aren’t privileged above the civil law.

And that, dear readers, is the crux of the matter. The piteous complaints that meet any effort to ensure the civic equality–note the word civic–of Americans who do not conform to their religious beliefs are based upon their conviction that they (and only they) are in possession of Truth, that they (and only they) know God’s Will, and that other citizens should therefore be forced to comply with their beliefs and their bigotries.

Von Drehle notes that the Justices offer no new basis for their opposition: he references Thomas’ 2015 argument that same-sex marriage is not mentioned in the Constitution– and points our the obvious: opposite-sex marriage isn’t mentioned there, either.

Thomas and Alito engage in a profoundly damaging legal error: religious freedom is not the right to impose some people’s beliefs on other citizens.

Far too many Americans define “freedom” as “my right to do what I want, no matter how harmful that may be to my fellow Americans.” We see that distortion in the refusal of “freedom fighters” to wear masks to protect the health of their neighbors.

Our legal system was profoundly influenced by what is sometimes called the “libertarian construct.” That construct provides that we each have the right to “self government”–to live our lives as we see fit, to worship or not, to form and exchange opinions, to go about our business free of official constraint– so long as we do not thereby harm the person or property of a non-consenting other, and so long as we grant an equal right to others.

There are all kinds of good-faith differences of opinion about the nature of the harms that justify government interventions–second-hand smoke? Seat belts? There is no such “gray area” when it comes to our obligation to extend “an equal right to others.”

When the issue is religious liberty, Von Drehle gets it right, and the Justices get it wrong.

By prohibiting establishment of a state religion, the Constitution explicitly bars “courts and governments” from preferring one set of religious views over any other set — or over nonreligious views…

Nor does religious freedom confer immunity from criticism. Religious freedom by its nature implies robust disagreement over strongly held values. Imprecations will be hurled, alas. Names will be called. Devout Christians should appreciate this; indeed, we are called blessed when we’re reviled for the sake of our faith. Furthermore, we’re taught to distinguish between civil and religious authority, and to render due respect to both.

Churches and other religious establishments rightly have certain protections from laws that might compel them to violate their beliefs while conducting their own business. It’s dangerous to confuse that safe zone with a general power to flout the law.

I say AMEN.

 

Still Fighting The Last War

Indiana Republicans seem determined to keep fighting the culture wars–especially the ones they’ve already lost.

At the Republican state convention–held the same day that approximately 100,000 Hoosiers gathered in Indianapolis to celebrate Pride and watch a parade that has become larger than the parade mounted by the Indy 500– GOP delegates voted down a proposed change in the party’s platform. The change would have removed language describing marriage as only between a man and woman.

Take that, 21st Century!

As the Northwest Indiana Times reported,

EVANSVILLE — The Indiana Republican Party, by an overwhelming margin, reaffirmed Saturday its commitment to marriage “between a man and a woman” as the preferred structure for Hoosier families.

In so doing, the 1,494 GOP delegates attending the party’s biennial state convention turned aside a revised “strong families” platform plank, proposed by Gov. Eric Holcomb’s party leadership, that expressed support for all adults raising children, in favor of renewing explicit support for opposite-sex marriage that first was inserted in the platform in 2014 by marriage equality opponents.

According to several reports, most of the delegates in attendance applauded and cheered following the vote. The reaction was described as an endorsement of “Mike Pence-era” attitudes.

Daniel Elliot, the Morgan County GOP chairman and leader of the Republican Victory Committee that pushed the platform issue to the convention’s forefront, said preferring man-woman marriage “is an important part of who we are as Hoosier Republicans.”

Unfortunately for Indiana, he’s right. It is who they are.

Hoosier Republicans continue to deny the equality of their LGBTQ neighbors–and generally reject other efforts to move the party in the direction of inclusiveness for people who don’t look like the people they see in their churches on Sunday, or in their mirrors. The Indiana GOP is– as the Northwest Times article suggests– still the party of Mike Pence.

It isn’t just homophobia. Members of the Pence party are suspicious of calls for equal pay for us “uppity” women, let alone the scandalous notion that we should be allowed to control our own reproduction. Pence Party Hoosiers want to halt immigration (at least from south of the border), and they roundly reject the notion that we might have an obligation to resettle the women and children refugees who have fled from unimaginable horrors. They are equally uninterested in the possibility of raising the minimum wage in order to ameliorate the struggles of the working poor– the third of Hoosier families that fall within the ALICE demographic.

Mostly, however, it’s “non-Biblical” sex that offends them. (Or, as a friend of mine used to opine, they are enraged by the prospect that across town somewhere, someone is having a good time…)

It will be interesting to see how these Pence party attitudes–which may have carried the day in Evansville, but are by and large not shared even by urban Republicans– play out in November. Granted, this is Indiana–the “buckle on the Bible Belt”–but citizens of this red state have largely come to terms with the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage. Lots of Hoosiers have gay friends and relatives, significant numbers attend churches and synagogues that are affirming and welcoming, and they are ready to move on.

The “Pence party,” not so much.

 

Religious Liberty And the Marketplace

Most of us have heard the military admonition against “fighting the last war.” The point is obvious: generals and political actors need to evaluate and respond to the reality in which they live; getting stuck in the past–fighting the last war– is a formula for failure.That admonition also suggests one way of analyzing America’s current political situation.

Much of our contemporary political and cultural polarization is between people I have previously described as Puritans and those I have dubbed Modernists.

America’s Puritans still see liberty as “freedom to do the right thing,” defined as behavior consistent with their particular theology. They still believe, with the earliest American settlers, that government should have the authority to weigh in on the side of “Godliness” as their theology conceives it.

Modernists–in and out of religious communities–accept the post-Enlightenment notion that liberty means personal autonomy, your right to do your own thing, so long as you aren’t harming anyone else and so long as you are willing to grant an equal right to your fellow citizens.

The shorthand for modernism is “live and let live.”

Conflicts over recognition of same-sex marriage and bathroom use by transgender individuals, and efforts to allow “religious” merchants to refuse service to LGBTQ customers are really conflicts between America’s Puritans and its Modernists. Puritans  believe that government should throw its weight behind their theological beliefs; Modernists understand the importance of separating church and state, of preventing  particularized religious doctrines from marginalizing or disadvantaging otherwise law-abiding citizens.

Even in the churches, the Modernists are winning. As the Religion News Service reports,

In no U.S. religious group does a majority think it’s acceptable for businesspeople to invoke their religious beliefs to refuse service to gays.

This finding from a 2016 Public Religion Research Institute survey is a first, said Robert P. Jones, CEO of the nonprofit research group.

The change in opinion among even conservative religious adherents has been relatively rapid:  In 2015, more than half of white evangelical Protestants and Mormons surveyed approved of merchants who cited religious belief to deny service to LGBT customers; in the 2016 survey, the percentage of white evangelical Protestants who expressed approval had dropped to 50% from  56% the year before.

The percentage of white mainline Protestants who approved of businesspeople who withhold services to gay people dropped to 30 percent in the recent poll, down from 37 percent in 2015.

Overall in 2016, twice as many Americans disapproved than approved of those who refuse service to a gay person based on religious beliefs (61 percent to 30 percent).

PRRI’s findings corroborate a more dramatic overall shift in attitudes about same-sex marriage and LBGT Americans in the past decade.

Most religious groups today support same-sex marriage, Jones noted. “The religious groups in which majorities oppose same-sex marriage make up less than 20 percent of the public.”

Despite the diminishing number of Puritans, state and federal legislators continue to support discriminatory measures aimed at the LGBTQ community, just as they continue to support a variety of measures disadvantaging women–all piously justified as “protecting religious liberty.”

They are fighting the last war. And thankfully, they’re losing.

 

The Age of Inhumanity

Historians will eventually affix a label to the time period we are living through (assuming, of course, that we do live through it); my predictive powers are considerably less than optimal, but I vote for “The Age of Inhumanity”–or maybe, “The Age of Assholery.”

My exhibits, from just the past couple of days:

Jimmy Kimmel recently delivered an emotional monologue about his newborn son, who’d been born with a heart condition. Ultimately, the story had a happy ending; surgery corrected the defect and they were able to take the baby home. Kimmel’s monologue included a “political” observation:

Before 2014, if you were born with congenital heart disease like my son was, there was a good chance you’d never be able to get health insurance because you had a pre-existing condition. You were born with a pre-existing condition. And if your parents didn’t have medical insurance, you might not live long enough to even get denied because of a pre-existing condition.

If your baby is going to die, and it doesn’t have to, it shouldn’t matter how much money you make. I think that’s something that, whether you’re a Republican or a Democrat or something else, we all agree on that, right?”

Well, no. Evidently not.

Former Rep. Joe Walsh (R-Ill.)–now a radio call-in show host– tweeted his reaction, writing: “Sorry Jimmy Kimmel: your sad story doesn’t obligate me or anybody else to pay for somebody else’s health care.”

I will note here that we shouldn’t be surprised by Walsh’s disinclination to pay insurance premiums that might benefit other people’s children, since he’d previously been sued by his ex-wife for failing to pay child support for his own. A real prince of a guy….

And then there was the funeral home in Mississippi that refused to honor its contractual obligation to provide services when they discovered that the deceased man had a husband.

For most of the 52 years he was in a relationship with Robert Huskey, Jack Zawadski doesn’t remember much in the way of anti-gay discrimination.

Not while they were trying to grow apples on a farm in Wisconsin. Not during the decades they spent as special education teachers. Not even when they moved to Mississippi 20 years ago to retire someplace warmer and more lush, or after they married in 2015, when the Supreme Court declared that gay couples have as much of a right as heterosexuals to marry.

Last month, at age 86, Huskey died after a long illness.

Zawadski, 82, said the funeral home that had been prearranged to pick up and cremate Huskey’s body refused at the last minute, telling the nursing home that they don’t “deal with their kind.”…

The couple’s nephew, John Gaspari, made the arrangements ahead of time with Picayune Funeral Home, the only funeral home in the county with an on-site crematory, according to the complaint. Zawadski had hoped to hold the funeral there so the couple’s local friends could pay their respects. On May 11, 2016, Gaspari contacted the funeral home to let them know Huskey had died.

But after filing the paperwork, including a document naming Zawadski as next of kin, Gaspari got a call from the nursing home. “The Nursing Home relayed to John that once it received the paperwork indicating that Bob’s spouse was male, PFH refused service because it did not ‘deal with their kind,’ ” the lawsuit stated.

Zawadski’s complaint says that the turmoil involved in finding alternative arrangements “permanently marred the memory of Bob’s otherwise peaceful passing,”

I wish I could say that these are isolated examples, but anyone who follows the news knows that they’re not.

What the hell is wrong with these people? What makes them so small and mean-spirited?

Whatever historians ultimately call it, we  live in an ugly time.

A Wedding

Regular readers of this blog know that I took a nasty fall a few weeks ago, and fractured both my pelvis and my collarbone. I’ve been mending, but the process has been far slower than I’d like. Until last weekend, I had left the house–in my baggiest clothes– only for doctor’s appointments and physical therapy.

Mended or not, however, I wasn’t about to miss the wedding last Saturday of two friends I’ve known for at least 25 years.

I put on real clothes (immensely grateful to find my pants still fit!), and even applied makeup; as I told my husband, I felt almost like a real person again. And off we went–to attend the wedding of two women who’ve been together through good times and bad for the last thirty-eight years, two women who have used their multiple talents, compassion and generosity to contribute to the quality of life in our community.

They were married in a friend’s home, surrounded by dozens of well-wishers from their personal and respective working lives; academic colleagues of the retired history professor, co-workers from the various agencies where the lawyer worked before her own retirement, family members and neighbors.

One of the male relatives who  offered a toast put it well: “some people say marriage is about love, some say it’s about companionship, some say it’s about lust–but I say it’s about time.”

Indeed!

When I first met the two of them, many years ago, they were careful to leave people with the impression that they were roommates–clearly worried about losing jobs and/or friends if they were candid about the true nature of their relationship. Little by little, over the years, social attitudes changed and those concerns eased, and last Saturday–after 38 years, no longer young but still devoted–they were finally able to celebrate their lifetime commitment surrounded by family, friends and neighbors who love and appreciate them and wish them well.

It was a lovely wedding.

I will never, ever understand how the obvious joy of being able to affirm a loving relationship hurts–or even remotely affects–anyone else. I will never, ever understand the mean-spirited scolds who want to deny other people–people they don’t even know– the right to publicly celebrate a meaningful connection to someone they love.

And I will never understand why Indiana’s Governor and Legislature are willing to allow–indeed, encourage– one group of Hoosiers to treat another group badly. I will never understand the stubborn refusal to extend equal civil rights to all Indiana citizens, or why these “good Christians” feel entitled to use the law to marginalize and diminish wonderful people simply because they love differently.

On reflection, I think I’m glad I don’t understand them.