Monday, November 10, 2008

The Big Hoo-Hah

I, for one, do not mind at all that those against passage of Proposition 8 in California are holding protests in front of Mormon temples, Catholic churches and edifices of other religions that supported the ban on gay marriage. This is absolutely their Constitutional right.

I do object, however, when these same protesters claim the right to free speech in making those protests while attempting to deny these churches that same right in their fight to support Proposition 8. You cannot logically claim a right to free speech when, practically in the same breath, your umbrage is against those who have exercised that same right.

Nor do I buy the argument that we can wrap this all under the wing of tolerance, because what we’re really talking about here is “tolerance of gay marriage,” and not “tolerance of religious beliefs against gay marriage.” I’m always amused when the tolerance of one is assumed to supersede the tolerance of another. In other words, it’s right to believe in gay marriage because that’s tolerant, and any other view that opposes that is intolerant. But the same people who say that are intolerant of religious beliefs, including those against gay marriage. So tolerance is just another way of saying “Since I believe in this, I’m right, and you’re wrong,” – the same tactics the opponents of Proposition 8 accuse its supporters of taking.

So we have a lot of the pot calling the kettle black.

I’ve heard a lot of noise, too, about the separation of church and state, and how opponents of Proposition 8 claim that the banning of gay marriage is the result of churches dictating to the state what they want, in violation of the Constitution.

Those who argue this way need to re-read their Constitution, which states:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The language here is clear. Congress shall make no law. This is the United States Congress, the United States government. And Constitutional scholars agree this was included in the Constitution to prohibit the Federal government from supporting a church as a state religion, not in prohibiting the involvement of religious authority or organizations in secular affairs.

That sentiment, too, seems to permeate the so-called Danbury Baptists letter, in which President Thomas Jefferson espoused the tenet of “separation of church and state:”
Believing with you that religion is a matter which lies solely between Man &
his God, that he owes account to none other for his faith or his worship, that
the legitimate powers of government reach actions only, & not opinions, I
contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which
declared that their legislature should "make no law respecting an establishment
of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof," thus building a wall of
separation between Church & State. Adhering to this expression of the
supreme will of the nation in behalf of the rights of conscience, I shall see
with sincere satisfaction the progress of those sentiments which tend to restore
to man all his natural rights, convinced he has no natural right in opposition
to his social duties.
It’s interesting to read the letter from the Danbury Baptists that prompted Jefferson’s response; that letter can be found here. Basically, the letter is from a group of Baptists congratulating Jefferson on his recent election to the presidency, expressing confidence that he would not work to enact laws that would suppress freedom of religion.

The US Supreme Court used Jefferson’s ideal in a 1947 decision, Everson V. Board of Education, in striking down a New Jersey law that allowed school districts to fund transportation of children to and from school, because some of that money was being used to reimburse travel for students attending Catholic schools.

In that decision, the court ruled:
The 'establishment of religion' clause of the First Amendment means at least
this: Neither a state nor the Federal Government can set up a church. Neither
can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion
over another. Neither can force nor influence a person to go to or to remain
away from church against his will or force him to profess a belief or disbelief
in any religion. No person can be punished for entertaining or professing
religious beliefs or disbeliefs, for church attendance or non-attendance. No tax
in any amount, large or small, can be levied to support any religious activities
or institutions, whatever they may be called, or whatever from they may adopt to
teach or practice religion. Neither a state nor the Federal Government can,
openly or secretly, participate in the affairs of any religious organizations or
groups and vice versa. In the words of Jefferson, the clause against
establishment of religion by law was intended to erect 'a wall of separation
between Church and State.'
Interpretation of the Everson decision in relationship to Proposition 8 will in all likelihood revolve around the “Neither can pass laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another” portion in the decision. Opponents of the proposition might argue that Proposition 8 does just that – it aids all religions. Those who support the proposition, however, could counter that since other religions spoke out against the proposition, the “all” does not apply. They could also argue that laws commonly regarded as secular – punishment for crimes, traffic laws, et cetera, aid all religions, while remaining “purely” secular. It’ll be interesting to see how this plays out.

Opponents of the ban will argue that the ban represents an imposition of religious thought on a secular government. Proponents of the ban will have to counter that argument. The language of the proposition itself might be proof that religion is not the primary motivator behind the law. The language states:
  • Changes the California Constitution to eliminate the right of same-sex couples to marry in California.
  • Provides that only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.
Interpretation, of course, is up to the courts, which is where this mess started in the first place.

It’s clear where my opinions lie on this matter. As the LDS Church has stated, opposition is not to civil unions that offer to homosexual couples the same legal, secular rights as married couples, but to the desanctification of marriage to achieve those secular rights.

From the statement issued by the LDS Church on Nov. 5 (emphasis added):

Allegations of bigotry or persecution made against the Church were and are
simply wrong. The Church’s opposition to same-sex marriage neither
constitutes nor condones any kind of hostility toward gays and lesbians.
Even more, the Church does not object to rights for same-sex couples
regarding hospitalization and medical care, fair housing and employment rights,
or probate rights, so long as these do not infringe on the integrity of the
traditional family or the constitutional rights of churches.

Some, however, have mistakenly asserted that churches should not ever
be involved in politics when moral issues are involved. In fact, churches
and religious organizations are well within their constitutional rights to speak
out and be engaged in the many moral and ethical problems facing society.
While the Church does not endorse candidates or platforms, it does reserve the
right to speak out on important issues.

Opponents of Proposition 8 choose, however, to focus on the gay marriage ban, without acknowledging at all that the church, in this statement and previous statements, states it does not seek to deny the secular rights that homosexuals find in being allowed to marry.

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