Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Finally, my conclusion. Marriage equality, yes. Conscience, yes.

I've wrestled with the issue of good religious people and their objection to same-sex marriage. Long ago I saw the essential equality of all marriages. I support the freedom to marry, without stigma, outside of the cultural norms (which are often cultural strait-jackets).

But I also understand and respect deep religious faith. Many of the most generous, loving people I've ever known have religious beliefs that would condemn me to hell for all eternity. These are the kind of people who would risk their own lives doing missionary work in unsafe areas of the world. How can I condemn people who are so much more generous and open-hearted than I am?

Eventually, I realized a formula. You don't have to support marriage equality, but don't deny it to other people. Don't set yourself up as the judge who decides which humans deserve which human rights.

Finally, I had to wrestle with the issue of whether people who are sincerely against same-sex marriage must be forced to provide services to those weddings. Does the florist have to provide flowers, does the baker have to provide a cake, does the photographer have to capture the moment of the grooms exchanging rings and kissing?

Anti-discrimination rules for public accommodations

Our country been through a similar issue before. If you run a public business, under civil rights laws, you can't discriminate against people of different races, ethnicity, religion, gender, disability status, etc. This was a correct decision. The rights of a business owner don't trump the rights of the public to go about their lives without discrimination in the public sphere. No one is forced to like whites, to privately socialize with people of a disfavored religion, to invite them into your home. But in the public sphere, who must treat them as you treat everyone else--with fairness.

Sexual orientation isn't currently on the list of characteristics that can't be discriminated against. I think it should be, and it is in many states. In general, public opinion reviles discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation. Most people support fairness for gays in all areas of life, including employment, housing, court, etc.

However, requiring fairness doesn't mean that we (the public) require everyone to view gay sexual choices as equal to other kinds of choices. I don't have to declare that I totally support all kinds of sexual freedom as good and wise, just like I don't have to declare that Tea Party political opinions are just correct as my opinions. I'm not just 'allowed' to disagree--I have the freedom to disagree.

So it is with business owners. They may have to operate as though they are fair and unbiased, but aren't required to adopt those beliefs.

Remember 'Live and Let Live?'

When support for gay rights was much less popular, some of the appeals were for understanding and tolerance of different viewpoints. These were good arguments. Why not live-and-let-live? Can't we give space to people to have different religions, different sexual interests, different languages, different political beliefs? Generally, we want to say 'yes' to this. We aren't required to all think and do the same.

So why doesn't this extend to the florist who is a devout Christian? Doesn't she get to live-and-let-live without being hauled into court for not wanting to participate in a same-sex wedding?

Are there limits to how far live-and-let-live goes? Certainly. It's not a carte-blanche to loudly and obnoxiously tell people that you don't like their kind, and therefore you won't have anything to do with them. It doesn't undermine the right of others to expect fair treatment in employment.

I'd like to draw the line on live-and-let-live somewhere short of compelling people to take part in acts they profoundly disagree with. But they still don't get to be bigoted about it. Can I make a conscience-exception only for the sincere people, and not for the bigots? That's the question.

Image: pantheos.com

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