In case you haven’t been following it, Prop 8 is a controversial initiative on the ballot in California that would insert a ban on gay marriage into the state constitution. I think this ad, narrated by Samuel L. Jackson, hits the nail on the head:
Regardless of how you feel about gays getting married, this is America, where we fundamentally believe that all men are created equal and deserve to be treated equally under the law. It’s one thing to ban something like polygamy, where everyone is legally limited to one spouse. It’s another thing to say, “You, you, and you can all marry the person you love. You, you, and you cannot.” That’s un-American.
In the last few weeks, the pastor of my church has spoken out pretty strongly in favor of the ban. His reasoning is that God intended marriage to be between a man and woman; that gays are only 2% of the population and we can’t let a small group determine marriage laws for the rest of us; that children will be taught gay marriage in schools; and that churches would lose their tax exempt status for refusing to perform gay marriages.
My response to that reasoning is this:
First, our Christian belief that God intended marriage to be between a man and woman is our own personal faith belief, and it shouldn’t be imposed on the entire population by force of law. We’re a nation of many cultures and faiths, and our laws need to respect that fact. Imagine how Christian churches would react if Islamic groups wanted to write some kind of legal discrimination into our state constitution based on what the Koran tells them about God’s design for marriage.
Second, if gays are only 2% of the population, then what’s the big deal about giving them equal rights as Americans to marry who they choose? Banning gay marriage isn’t going to stop them from being gay or adopting children, so isn’t it actually better for them to be in committed, monogamous relationships than not? And the institution of gay marriage does not determine marriage laws for the rest of us. It doesn’t in any way affect who I can marry, the legal definition of my marriage, or the sanctity of my relationship with my wife.
Third, I don’t remember ever being taught anything about marriage in school. But even if I was taught about gay marriage as a child, what’s the problem? Does that mean I’d have been somehow more likely to grow up gay? Does that mean when I hit 12 or 13, my body chemistry somehow wouldn’t have turned me crazy about every pretty girl I saw? I just don’t see what the issue is. I guess if you believe homosexuality is a choice– a notion that both science and common sense refutes– then you could have an argument here. But even if you do, the argument still doesn’t hold water. Our schools expose children to many issues that may be outside of our personal belief systems, issues that they have the choice to embrace or not. For example, should we stop teaching children about European history for fear that they suddenly turn into Nazis or Communists? Should we stop teaching them about the Jim Crow South for fear they suddenly embrace racism? This is not to equate gay marriage with any of those things, but just to expose the utter ridiculousness of that argument.
Lastly, I am sensitive to the issue of churches losing their tax exempt status for refusing to perform gay marriages. It’s the one argument that has a bit of sway with me. But then I remember that up until 1978– 14 years after the Civil Rights Act was passed– the Mormon Church did not allow blacks to serve certain duties as priests. It wasn’t until their tax exempt status was threatened that the policy was changed. The government didn’t threaten to close the Mormon Church down or prohibit Mormons from freely practicing their faith. The government merely said, if your church wants to continue discriminating against people contrary to the laws of the United States of America, you are free to do so, but you will no longer enjoy the privileges of tax exempt status. I believe that’s fair. If the people of California use the democratic process to extend marriage rights to gays, then churches operating within the jurisdiction of the state of California should honor the law, just like they honor all other laws.
(By the way, is it a coincidence that the Mormon Church– based in Utah– is the largest contributor to California’s gay marriage ban initiative, contributing as much as 77% of the total funds donated to the campaign? That’s $8 million to $17 million of church resources that, in my opinion, could have been much better spent.)
So just like you can be a Christian and vote for Obama, you can also be a Christian and vote against a constitutional ban on gay marriage. Regardless of how you feel about gays, fighting discrimination against them or any other group of Americans is the right thing to do.
UPDATE: Here’s the short version of this post. Proposition 8 is not a referendum on whether you believe homosexuality is right or wrong, good or bad for society. It’s a referendum on whether you believe discrimination against American citizens should be written into the California state constitution for any reason.
As for my concern– and that of my pastor– that the defeat of Prop 8 could lead to churches losing their tax exempt status, that turns out not to be true. According to an amazing op-ed by the LA Times (read the whole thing), it’s just another scare tactic:
Another “Yes on 8″ canard is that the continuation of same-sex marriage will force churches and other religious groups to perform such marriages or face losing their tax-exempt status. Proponents point to a case in New Jersey, where a Methodist-based nonprofit owned seaside land that included a boardwalk pavilion. It obtained an exemption from state property tax for the land on the grounds that it was open for public use and access. Events such as weddings — of any religion — could be held in the pavilion by reservation. But when a lesbian couple sought to book the pavilion for a commitment ceremony, the nonprofit balked, saying this went against its religious beliefs.
The court ruled against the nonprofit, not because gay rights trump religious rights but because public land has to be open to everyone or it’s not public. The ruling does not affect churches’ religious tax exemptions or their freedom to marry whom they please on their private property, just as Catholic priests do not have to perform marriages for divorced people and Orthodox synagogues can refuse to provide space for the weddings of interfaith couples. And Proposition 8 has no bearing on the issue; note that the New Jersey case wasn’t about a wedding ceremony.
And commenter Randplaty wrote a long rebuttal to this post that is well worth reading in its entirety, ending his/her argument with:
In the end, that’s what it comes down to. You either believe gay marriage is a good thing or you believe it’s a bad thing.
But again, Proposition 8 is not a referendum on how you feel about gay marriage, although I suspect a lot of people will– and are entitled to– vote that way. It’s about whether one religious group’s beliefs should be imposed on everyone else. Would Christians stand by happily while Scientologists wrote their definition of marriage into California’s constitution? No. So why should everyone else defer to our beliefs?
One final word. There’s a guy at my work who, earlier this year, got married to his male partner of several years. He’s a great guy, and everyone in the office is supportive of him. Tomorrow, I get to vote on his marriage. He will never get to vote on mine. Is that fair? Is that America?