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Don’t settle on marriage rights

February 22, 2009

The New York Times today published an op-ed by two men on opposite sides of the gay marriage debate. They come to the conclusion that we need to avoid an all-out culture war by settling on a compromise that can leave everybody mad.

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.

This is a terrible idea. Forcing states to write discrimination clauses into law to allow their unions to be recognized would serve to punish those who believe all people are created equal. Does anyone really believe a federal second-class status like this would ever lead to equality?

As I’ve mentioned before, the N.J. Civil Union Review Commission found in their report that the state’s civil unions, which are supposed to be equivalent to marriages, won’t ever lead to equal status. And it’d be giving a huge opening to the religious right, which in a terrifying move has already managed to take away existing rights once with Proposition 8 in California.

What’s more, the authors seem to have thought things through almost, but not quite, enough:

A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.

So gay marriages are like abortions? Thanks for the lovely comparison. I suppose this means if my “civil unionee” were to be in an accident and hospitalized, the police and hospitals could choose not to tell me because they didn’t believe in our relationship. Or if he and I got into a horrible car accident and I was put on life support at a right-wing religious hospital (or one with such a staff), that they could ignore my not-quite-husband’s wishes as if he weren’t there.

Can you imagine how it would feel to have your loved one unconscious, kept alive by a machine, and to be told you’re not allowed to even see them?

I ask you to take a moment and imagine your spouse—or your child or parent—in the next room over, on the verge of dying. (That’s what you imagine since no one will tell you anything.) Pretend you’re going to the door, only to be told that no one but family can enter or be given any personal information. When you explain how you’re related, the staff just says your relationship isn’t real. And there’s nothing you can do about it, because it’s all perfectly legal.

That’s how the law is right now, almost everywhere. Is that the kind of occurence you want to further legalize, or one you’d rather eliminate?

3 Comments leave one →
  1. herald7 permalink
    February 22, 2009 11:18 pm

    I am pro life and I agree with you, abortion and same sex marriage shouldn’t have been compared like that in the article you mentioned. What they really have in common is this: both issues are about recognizing the equality of all life. :)

    Here is my own Blog on the abortion issue:

  2. Kate permalink
    February 24, 2009 12:46 am

    The “moral objection” exception has been a terrible model for women’s reproductive health and rights, and would be an even more unconscionable objection if applied to gay marriage.

    Particularly in poor or rural areas, a single pharmacist unwilling to dispense birth control seriously restricts the ability of women to have a say in their own reproductive health. This is not a model we should be looking to for inspiration.

    Religious organizations already have the legal right to discriminate based on faith among their employees – should this be extended to things like after-school programs or food pantries? The ‘moral objection’ template potentially expands this still further, into utterly non-religious realms beyond the church, much as the original expands religious objections and interference in the private lives of women beyond the personal beliefs of the objector in very materially harmful ways for the objectee.

    More importantly, in a country founded on the idea that “all men are created equal,” why should we allow religious belief to validate and enable discrimination? Imagine what this debate would look like if the issue at hand were inter-racial marriage.

    In 1983, after a long legal battle, the U.S. Supreme Court found that for racial discrimination for prohibiting interracial dating, Bob Jones University was prohibited from filing taxes as a tax-exempt religious organization and was required to pay over a million dollars in back taxes. This should be no different. While no-one can force churches to recognize gay marriage, if and when there is a federal anti-discrimination statute, no religious organization should get tax breaks for discriminatory policies.

    • February 24, 2009 12:50 am

      Well put! I agree completely. It seems people don’t think through just how far-reaching these kinds of policies can be, and leave us to suffer the consequences.

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