By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

Whose religion?

When the going gets tough, President Bush trots out the gay-marriage bogeyman. Bush got exactly what he wanted this week. The constitutional ban that he supposedly backs was easily defeated, thus giving him a chance to excite his dwindling base while keeping the issue low-profile enough so as not to alienate normal Americans.

Eugene Robinson of the Washington Post put it nicely: “What uncharted realm lies beyond brazen cynicism? A wasteland of utter shamelessness, perhaps?”

But if Bush’s motives are obvious enough, what’s the deal with Peter Steinfels? The New York Times religion columnist devotes an entire piece today to exploring the notion that legal recognition of same-sex marriage could violate the First Amendment rights of religious conservatives.

I’m not going to take on Steinfels’ microanalysis of whether an evangelical Christian college might be forced to allow married same-sex couples to occupy its dorms or lose its tax-exempt status. In fact, I would go so far as to say that there is some chance of that happening.

Rather, let me address the macro argument that seems to elude Steinfels: Whose religion? There are, in fact, mainstream religious organizations in this country that support the right of same-sex marriage. The fact that Unitarian Universalist clergy may only perform such marriages in Massachusetts is just as much a violation of religious liberty as the hypothetical examples cited by Steinfels. (Disclosure: I’m a UU.) Reform Jews, Congregationalists and members of several other denominations also support same-sex marriage — or, at least, oppose a constitutional amendment.

Next time Steinfels chooses to write about this topic, he might consult the Web site of an organization called Clergy for Fairness, and ask some of the leaders how their religious liberty is being threatened by the likes of Pat Robertson, James Dobson and, yes, President Bush.

My friend Susan Ryan-Vollmar writes in Bay Windows this week: “Civil marriage rights are a civil rights issue and a moral issue. One of the reasons why we have succeeded here in Massachusetts is because the issue has been framed in those terms.”

By failing to frame it as a moral issue elsewhere, gay-marriage advocates allow their opponents to claim morality for themselves — and they allow journalists such as Steinfels to be led astray. Yes, Steinfels quotes liberals who think the notion of a constitutional clash is real, and no, I don’t doubt that it could happen. But there are Americans are being denied their religious liberties right now, and Steinfels should have paid attention to them, too.


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6 Comments

  1. Shawn Anthony

    “When the going gets tough, President Bush trots out the gay-marriage bogeyman. Bush got exactly what he wanted this week. The constitutional ban that he supposedly backs was easily defeated, thus giving him a chance to excite his dwindling base while keeping the issue low-profile enough so as not to alienate normal Americans.”You are 100% on the money with this …

  2. Anonymous

    “normal”is “an evolving paradigm”…

  3. Don

    Marriage is a religious issue. In some organized religions that does not ensure that it’s a moral issue, but it’s definitely NOT a concern of government.

  4. Dan Kennedy

    Hatlo — So … no civil marriage? No tax breaks for married couples? No government recognition of marriage, period? OK, then. In your world, same-sex couples would be able to get married in churches and synagogues that allow for it, and they would be considered just as married as the heterosexual couple who get married in a Catholic church. Not so bad. Somehow I don’t think that’s what you meant, though.

  5. Don

    Dan, I think that’s EXACTLY what I meant. You said it just about right. Sure, if you want to consider yourself married, and it’s OK in your organized religion, what do I care? Just keep the government OUT of it. Not so bad, eh?

  6. Dan Kennedy

    Hatlo — No, not bad at all. I’d take a different route, but it sounds like we wind up in the same place.

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