Tuesday, March 26, 2013

The Supreme Court and Marriage Equality

I've blogged frequently and often about same-sex relationships, faith, and how that issue has stirred tensions both in congregations and in our body politic.  

I don't preach on it much, I'll admit.  From the pulpit, where dialogue is a bit more difficult, I tend to focus on those things that mattered to Jesus.  So I figure as I take his lead in teaching about the Kingdom, my preaching should reflect His stated priorities.  That means there is relentless talk about radically and unconditionally loving everyone, period.  If as a free human being you can't figure out where you need to take that, then you can explain that to Jesus when you get to the front of the line.  

As a liberal, my stance on this spiritually follows from this radical emphasis.  It shouldn't be surprising.  You can read it in its fullness by following the link after this comma, which lays out my scriptural and theological approach to the issue.  I'm for covenant commitment, for welcome, for inclusion, and for openness.  

This is a related but different kettle of fish than the one that's on many folks' minds today.  Today, the Supreme Court will be considering the constitutionality of Proposition 8, a popular referendum which overturned same-sex marriage in California.   A Reagan-appointed judge and a US District Court had both affirmed that Prop 8 was unconstitutional.  This being one of our favorite hot-buttons, though, the fight was always destined to go all the way to the top.

So here we go.

Looking at the issue, it remains as it was back when Prop Eight came down the pike.  Back when that went down, I went over some of the primary arguments against same sex marriage.  Here they are again:

1) Gay Marriage Threatens Marriage. This stance, which is a standard position, has the unfortunate character of being self-evidently wrong. 

Anyone who is married knows this. 

There are plenty of real threats to marriage out there.  Financial stressors, the insane overscheduled lives we lead, our own selfishness, and the hungers and insecurities that drive us to betray our commitments to others are real threats.  But same sex marriages are not.   The integrity of my heterosexual marriage is not impacted in any way by gay marriage, any more than it is threatened by Bosmer/Argonian marriages.  

If the state chooses to extend those rights to another class of citizen, that does not in any way abrogate my own rights. No matter where you stand on the issue, that remains true.  It also in no way impacts the sanctity of a covenantal union. If you believe that marriage is fundamentally a covenant between a man and a woman, bound together by the grace and power of their Creator, then the extension of legal and civil rights to gays and lesbians can in no way impact those covenants. One is an action of the state, and the other is an action taken from within the framework of faith.

What the Court is considering today is not the theology of covenant, thank God.  It's a question of constitutionally protected civil liberties and the State.  From the solely secular standpoint of the interests of the state, same-sex marriage does not jeopardize social stability.  Paired, committed, and legally affirmed relationships between couples are considerably less entropic.  They make for deeper opportunities for mutual care, and put individuals in a better position to cope with times of illness or economic hardship.  

And that's good for America, dagflabbit.  A strong, resilient citizenry might not be what a tyrant wants, but it is in the best interest of our free republic.  

Not that being single is evil or wrong, mind you.  That's not the case I'm making here.  But we need one another.  Be it a partner or a nurturing community, we are strengthened by mutually supportive relationships.  The Court should be able to recognize that.

2) Gay Marriage Stands Against the Will of the People. This is materially incorrect on a national scale.  Most Americans have come to terms with same sex marriage, either actively supporting it or realizing it has no impact on their lives.   In California, however, that may or may not be true.  A huge influx of ads and push-polls can skew the referendum process, but whichever way, Prop Eight did pass.

So lets imagine that the inverse is true, and that only a minority viewed this as impinging on their liberty.  Here, we need to consider the entire purpose of the judiciary in the American Constitutional system of governance. The judiciary exists to serve the law...and the Constitutional liberties of all Americans...over and above the will of the majority. That is the  special and particular purpose of the Court, which ideally -- if not always in practice -- exists to hold the principles of liberty above the whims of the populace. If a justice is doing his or her job, their fealty is first and foremost to the Constitution. Unfortunately, the case against gay marriage has little foundation in our Constitution, which stands as a clear bulwark against majorities who would impinge the freedom of minorities.

Here, there's an interesting tension for American conservatism, between the old state's-rights argument and the currently ascendant libertarian wing.  Do the the rights of a state trump the constitutional liberties of individuals?  Seeing where the court falls on this will be intriguing.

3) Gay Marriage Threatens Religious Liberty. This argument plays directly into the culture of self-entitled aggrievement that seems to define so much of American life. The argument goes like this: I believe, from my faith, that homosexuality is sinful. If I am required to provide benefits to gays and lesbians or tolerate their unions, the requirement that I be tolerant is a fundamental violation of my religious freedom.

This argument seems not to grasp the nature of freedom. Within our constitutional republic, the rights of every individual are protected, in so far as they do not impinge on the rights of other individuals. That's the purpose of the Constitution. There is no evidence that permitting same sex marriage in any way impinges on the rights of Americans to believe that homosexuality is sinful, any more than you are forbidden to believe that my drinking a perfectly-hopped Imperial IPA is a sin.

What might be limited is the right of a small business owner to deny health care benefits to same-sex partners, or to refuse to hire/rent or sell to/serve individuals who they view as basically evil. Here, those who resist same-sex marriage face a clear ideological conundrum. Within our republic, freedom is not without limits. If an individual acts in such a way as to restrict the liberty of another, they are using their freedom in a way that undercuts the freedoms of others. Again, the purpose of the government in a constitutional republic is to balance the liberty of all, at the least possible cost to liberty.

Against that metric, the socially conservative position clearly falters, particularly in comparison to the libertarian/liberal position. 

Gays and lesbians who seek legally recognized marriage are not meaningfully limiting the religious or personal liberty of those who view their behavior as undesirable. It does no harm to the liberty of a conservative, to the life they choose to lead, or to the faith they choose to practice. That's not the way it's going to be played, of course. But it is, nonetheless, true.

So now we sit, and we wait.  Let's see where this goes.