Wednesday, July 01, 2015

Marriage Equality and the non-consenting

Since the SCOTUS ruling there have been a bunch of reactions from conservative religious folk.  I have no problem with someone believing whatever they want and I fully expect that when someone has a deeply held faith commitment, they will act accordingly.  If they do not, then they are simply hypocrites. 

So here are the two problem areas... First, I hear folk, especially very conservative Christians, claiming that the government will force them to marry gay couples or they will somehow be punished.  My first question would be when has the government ever forced you to marry anyone?  If a couple comes to me as a clergy person, I decide whether or not to perform the service. If not, it may be because I do not agree the couple is ready for marriage or any other reason that I decide.  If the congregation I serve has criteria to which I've agreed, then those criteria help shape the decision.  If I served a congregation that refused to perform services for divorced persons and a couple came with one of them being divorced, the service would not be performed.

This simply is not a concern and there is no reason to believe it ever will be.  Add the question of what gay couple would want their service to be performed by someone who believes their relationship is an abomination and I really cannot imagine it ever becoming a problem.

The second is a bit trickier.  We've seen already that in some states, clerks are being advised that they do not have to provide marriage licenses to gay couples.  This is problematic in a number of ways.  First I would ask whether those same clerks are allowed to refuse a license to a couple with a divorced person?  Or a mixed race couple?  Or a couple of mixed religions... or no religion for that matter (if indeed, marriage is an institution established by God)?  All these situations trigger religious objections by some.

Then there is the question raised by the recent meme... if giving a marriage license means that you've participated in the gay marriage, does selling a gun mean that you've participated in a murder committed with that gun?  Does giving a couple a license imply anything other than that the state allows this relationship and that the employee is acting as an agent of the state (his or her job). 

Years ago I had a discussion with someone who worked for a defense company and had been condemned by some for working at a plant that produced munitions, implying that they were responsible for how those munitions were being used.  His answer was, "I didn't send the troops there.  I didn't authorize the expenditures.  You elected that government and you paid for those munitions.  Maybe you're the one who is responsible."  The argument made sense.  I think this is a similar situation.  If an individual clerk cannot fulfill his or her job, they should find a new job.  In doing that job - providing a marriage license - they are not participating in the acts that follow.

On the other hand, what about a JP or Judge who performs weddings as a part of their job?  That person is participating in the ritual in a more significant way and religious objections may have a real part here.  At the same time, the local government is required by law to provide that service.  I would argue that in those circumstances a religious exemption might make sense but that the government agency is obligated to provide someone who will perform the ceremony.  John Smith may indeed say, "I cannot do this service for religious reasons, but my colleague, Mary Jones will.  Let me get her."  Or indeed, while talking to the couple, the clerk need not even mention John Smith.  The clerk can just make the appointment with Mary Jones.  Under no circumstances can the county office say, "Sorry, we don't have anyone to do your service."  They are responsible to provide that service to all who are legally entitled to it


roy said...

The Baptist Joint Committee has released a document outlining the religious implications of the SCOTUS ruling for churches at

Michael Mahoney said...

Your points are reasonable and well thought out. History shows you are in the minority.

First, you know I do not view same sex marriage as theologically valid. I personally have no issue with the legal contract of marriage being same-sex.

I also think that county clerks should not be allowed to decline to carry out their duty. As you point out, simply issuing the paperwork does not mean one has now "participated" somehow. The same applies to businesses such as a bakery or florist. Sell the flowers, you don't have to go to the wedding.

Photography (in my view) is different. The photographer does need to attend the function, and needs to create art around it. They should be allowed to decline. There are other photographers. Why would you want to force someone to photograph your wedding?

Unfortunately the Elaine Photography case in New Mexico proves that is not the case. She declined to photograph a commitment ceremony and recommended several photographers (her competitors) who would. The couple returned (under false pretenses of arranging to photograph a straight wedding, booked her services, and then revealed it was for a same sex ceremony. Then they sued the photographer, who has now been forced out of the wedding photography business. These are clearly terrible people.

Ocean Grove, New Jersey, a private, church-owned enclave, no longer allows weddings in their beachfront pavilion because they refused to allow a same sex wedding on church-owned property.

Catholic Charities is getting out of adoption because they would be forced to place with same-sex couples. There are many other adoption services available.

Clearly, there are terrible people on both sides of the issue. Clearly, reason has abandoned many people. Clearly, many Christians are reacting terribly. I wish I had a solution. Well, I do, but common sense, grace and understanding seem in short supply.