Wednesday, April 15, 2009

On Maggie Gallagher, Marriage and Religious Liberty

Nearly a week late, on her Tuesday, April 7, 2009 column entitled Gay Marriage and the future of religious liberty, nationally syndicated right-wing columnist, President of the so-called National Organization for Marriage (which, curiously, is an anti-marriage group), and Ossining, New York resident Maggie Gallagher makes the claim that laws that make marriage gender-neutral threaten the religious liberty of the citizens of those states that enact such laws.

She claims that same-sex marriage “asks religious Americans to surrender a core belief” vaguely citing both Leviticus and Genesis, but like most Bible-thumpers, completely ignores the message of 1 Samuel 18, in which David, the anointed of God, enters into a same-sex marriage covenant with King Saul’s son Jonathan, and later in the same Chapter, when Saul also gives David his daughter Michal in marriage, Saul says that this makes David his son-in-law a second time. Maggie claims that opposite-sex-only-marriage is a core belief of Christians, but she ignores the Biblical evidence for gender-neutral marriage.

Her argument is specious – the adoption of gender-neutral marriage laws does not force religious Americans to give up any belief at all with regard to their religious beliefs with regard to marriage. In fact, the adoption of gender-neutral marriage laws involves an affirmation of religious freedom.

The Catholic Sacrament of Holy Matrimony between a man and a woman is not adversely affected by making civil marriage laws gender-neutral – a man may still sacramentally marry a woman in a Catholic Church. But now, Quakers, Unitarians and others whose deeply held religious beliefs sanction the religious marriage of two men, or two women, may now exercise the freedom of their deeply-held beliefs.

Maggie also envisions a dystopian future where courts will ban private discrimination within the churches. To an extent, this is utter nonsense. However, when it comes to dealing on the secular plane with people of different religious beliefs, the law should brook no discrimination. Religious freedom, like the freedom of speech, is not an absolute and untrammeled right of one religious tradition to impose its beliefs on all. That would be like Maggie Gallagher, whose organization seeks to do just that.

But when religious groups venture into the world of commerce, respect for other beliefs must be paramount. Mormons can ban anyone without a Temple Recommend (even other Mormons) from their temple precincts – but if they operate a business, they should be obliged to obey non-discrimination laws in the conduct of that business – particularly if they receive government funding or tax relief.

Still, I believe there is a legitimate church-state issue here that Maggie does not seem to comprehend or raise – government should have no authority over religious marriage or the regulation or sanctioning of religious marriage. New York’s domestic relations law has several sections pursuant to which clergy are authorized to perform marriages in the State of New York, and provides penalties for clergy who do not perform marriages in accordance with state law. This is an unwarranted intrusion into religious freedom. Clergy should have no right to preside over a secular marriage (unless they do not discriminate against anyone with a valid government-issued license), and the government should have no say about the termination of any religious marriage contract.

The distinction between secular and religious marriage is most apparent in the area of divorce laws – while under current unconstitutional law, a Catholic priest might preside over a combined secular/religious wedding, a catholic tribunal may only terminate or void the religious sacrament, while the divorce court may only terminate the civil marriage contract. It’s the same in Jewish tradition, where the Jewish religious marriage contract can only be terminated by a “get,” while the state only requires that the husband agree to obtain a get as a condition of the civil divorce decree being obtained. (This, too, is an intrusion into religious liberty.)

We should look to the more enlightened European countries, which strictly separate the secular civil marriage performed by a civil official, from a religious sacrament, contract or blessing. Such a true separation of church and state would help ease the confusion in the minds of ignorant people like my neighbor Maggie Gallagher and her ilk. She objects to being called a bigot, even though to those who are not ignorant, her position on imposing her personal bigoted narrow un-Christian Christianist beliefs on everyone is clearly seen as bigotry by anyone who has a modicum of decency or morality. To be charitable, perhaps she is truly ignorant or incapable of grasping truth, and not bigoted and mean-spirited on purpose.

If I can respect her civil rights under secular marriage laws, why can’t she accept that those rights should be equally available to persons other than the heterosexual majority?

While I could make a theological argument based on 1 Samuel 18 to the Roman Catholic hierarchy to implore it to change its stance so that it sacramentalizes marriage on a gender-neutral basis, I would expect the hierarchy to make its own rules with regard to sacramental issues. I do not expect the Catholic hierarchy to butt its way into civil marriage, but the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith has done so, in a document that is offensive to anyone who respects the founding principles and the social contract upon which the American republic was created.

Maggie Gallagher and her errantly-named NOM group also want to impose Christianist religious bigotry on the civil institution of marriage.

The First Amendment to the American Constitution expressly guarantees freedom of religious expression, not just to conservative Christianists, but to all Americans. The same Amendment also prohibits the government from establishing religion. The only way to accomplish both the religious freedom and the non-Establishment is to separate religious and civil marriage, at the commencement, during the marriage, and also at and after the termination. A civil divorce should not be sufficient to end a religious contract, nor should a religious annulment be permitted to end a civil marriage – it should be the same way at the beginning.

While the government may not establish religion, it can, and perhaps should, respect the binding nature of religious sacramental contracts and blessings, requiring that any existing religious blessing or sacrament be dispensed with prior to permitting a party to enter into any new civil marriage or as a prerequisite to formally granting a divorce (though a civil separation would be available to those under a religious disability). But perhaps that should be the extent of the government/religion connection in the area of marriage.

Such an arrangement would strengthen the religious freedom of Mormons to enter into their more solemn form of marriage with sealing, or a fundamentalist Christian “covenant marriage,” or the Catholic Matrimonial sacrament. After all, a contract should be respected, even if it is a contract entered into under religious auspices.

However, a civil marriage should be required for any of the secular civil rights and responsibilities of marriage to inure.

Interestingly, this separation also creates a hope for some senior citizens in nursing homes who may choose to enter into a religious-only marriage so they can sleep together without sin, while keeping their estates separate and their social security checks intact.

In any event, the picture Maggie paints of gender-neutral marriage laws is bleak and uninviting – but it is all based on a tissue of lies, innuendo and falsification.

Maggie’s final question is “Is Vermont the beginning of a new willingness on the part of the powerful gay-marriage movement to let Christians be Christians?”

Ah, but the question should be asked of Maggie herself – is she and her curiously-named anti-marriage organization willing to let Christians be Christians rather than forcing the state to impose Christianist bigotry on everyone?

Jesus Himself recognized a separation of religion from the secular law when He said, “Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (cit. all the synoptic Gospels: Matthew 22:21, Mark 12:17 and Luke 20:25). Perhaps Maggie might consider respecting these wise words of Jesus, and keep her religious bigotry out of civil laws that respect all religion, even atheism.

Perhaps Maggie may some day become enlightened. Perhaps she may one day be given the efficacious grace of the Spirit so that she may grow in Wisdom and Understanding, and that she will see the inherent error of her current position. Like Pastor Rick Warren, whom she skewers in her column, perhaps she may one day start down the road to a change of heart - in which her organization might some day truly and really be *for* marriage and not really against it. Perhaps only time will tell.

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