Let Them Have It

The NY State Senate is still tied up with a resolution that would finally permit same-sex marriage in the state. The tie up is largely due to “concerns” from some religious leaders (by no means all — several Episcopal bishops including Sisk and Singh to name but two have spoken out in support of the resolution). These other concerned religious leaders, perhaps best represented by the one with most to fret about, Archbishop Dolan, wish to have the act amended to provide greater “protections” to various of their members and agencies.

Of course, as we all know (don’t we?) no church can be forced to perform a marriage against its doctrine. Roman Catholics can turn legally divorced persons away without blinking an eye; no rabbi can be forced to officiate at a marriage of non-Jews; nor could an Episcopal priest be required to solemnize a marriage in which both of the parties are unbaptized. There is, in short, no civil right to marriage that trumps a religious right to refuse to solemnize those deemed outside the relevant religious tradition. There is no right to a rite.

So the “concerns” are more removed from the actual issue of marriage itself, at least in the ritual or religious sense. A church that rents its hall for parties may want to refuse to rent it for a gay couple's wedding reception. A church-related agency for adoption or foster-care may want to refuse to place a child with a married lesbian couple.

And my opinion is, let them have it. Let them discriminate on these grounds. There are other halls to rent, and adoption and foster care agencies to place children. (I do feel for the children who may not find or be delayed in finding a loving couple to care for them; but the responsibility for this will lie with the religious leaders who place a premium on their own concept of righteousness at the expense of the little ones.)

This view is not, by the way, meant to accommodate the individual person of strong religious views, but only institutionally related facilities. The homophobic baker should not have the right to refuse to bake a cake for gay couples — though, at the same time, there are other bakers who will be glad to oblige. But we do get into sticky areas of fondant and marzipan when personal beliefs, however deeply held, are granted special privilege to operate apart from some institution committed to that peculiar view, and for specifically doctrinal reasons.

I say this because I believe the arc of history is on our side. Even the baker will soon find herself with fewer customers, were this provision even to be extended so far — which as I say I do not advise. If the Roman Catholic Church wishes to take what it thinks is the high road — let them do it. History — and the Almighty — will be their judge, as history and God are mine.

But I can read history as well as anyone, and conservative churches wed to the bigotries of the past soon are wearing unbecoming widows' weeds. They do not have a particularly good track record in this regard, whether the matter be the treatment of spiritual movements, of slavery, or even of cosmology.

What the Almighty will say when all is said and done... well, that will depend upon who is acting with greater consistency with the Gospel.

Update and clarification: I neglected to mention the issue of church-related agencies that receive state financial support. I by no means want to suggest that, for example, a church-affiliated adoption agency should continue to receive public financial support if it chooses to limit its services on the grounds of religious beliefs. To continue to offer financial support would be precisely to favor a particular religious aspect of their general work. They cannot have it both ways: if they are claiming an exemption from respecting the civil rights of others on religious grounds, then the civil society has every responsibility to withhold its support of what is, by their own admission, an action based on religion.

Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG

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