Monday, October 14, 2013

We Are All Gay-Married Now

It looks like the same-sex marriage debate is moving into a new phase of misinformation, ignorance of history and other relevant matters, and irrelevance.  Business as usual, in other words, only with different hot buttons and dog whistles plugged into the arguments.  Right now, as many opponents concede that they've lost and it's only a matter of time until we're all gay-married, the question is how much of a threat same-sex marriage poses to religious freedom.

Last week the blogger and Greek Orthodox convert Rod Dreher wrote a post for The American Conservative on just that subject.  The title under which it appeared, "Does Faith = Hate?", was an exercise in bad faith all by itself; probably he's not responsible for the title, but the following content is not better.  It's a somewhat milder, more reflective, less panicky version of what he wrote immediately after the Supreme Court's DOMA decision last June.

Just for fun, though, let me begin by dissecting the rhetorical question in that title.  Does "faith" equal "hate"?  Those are both some rather fraught words.  If "hate" is supposed to mean "opposed to same-sex marriage," then the answer is obviously No, since many religious believers aren't opposed to same-sex marriage.  Some of them are gay.  It would be interesting and possibly fruitful to probe Dreher on this.  Does he deny that pro-gay and gay Christians, say, are Christians?  (If so, he has some common ground with President Obama, who has said [via] that "people of faith", Democrats, and gay people are separate mutually-exclusive groups.)  Any religious conservative who doesn't address that point has some explaining to do, don't you think?

As for "hate," the misuse of that word by liberals is a problem.  You can, of course, simply postulate that any position you disagree with is "hate," but as Bertrand Russell said, postulating has all the advantages of theft over honest toil.  Liberals are also prone to deny that people are entitled to hate in a free society, or that "hate speech" (which they figure they'll define) is protected by the First Amendment; I disagree, but if they were right they'd be in trouble themselves.  But I'll return to this, because antigay religious believers are prone to wail that they're hated, or "demonized," as though they or anyone has a right not to be hated.

So, Dreher begins by quoting the ultra-Catholic opponent of same-sex marriage Maggie Gallagher to the effect that "there is an accelerating awareness that the consequence of marriage equality is going to be extremely negative for traditionalist Christians."  Dreher agrees: "the most important goal at this stage is not to stop gay marriage entirely but to secure as much liberty as possible for dissenting religious and social conservatives while there is still time. To do so requires waking conservatives up to what may happen to them and their religious institutions if current trends continue—and Catholic bishops, say, come to be regarded as latter-day Bull Connors ... The threat," he intones, "is real."
Religious schools and charities could suffer penalties such as the loss of government funding or state credentials necessary to operate. They could also have their tax-exempt status taken from them.
In support of this claim Dreher cites a 2007 case from New Jersey, in which a Methodist Church lost its tax exemption for a pavilion it owned, when a lesbian couple were denied permission to use it for their civil union ceremony.
The judge determined that the Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Association breached its agreement to make the pavilion available to the public on an equal basis. The association was also required to make the pavilion public in exchange for a state tax exemption it received that requires equal access on a non-discriminatory basis. Metzger also noted that while the association is free to practice its mission without government oversight, it had never attached any religious ministry to the wedding venue until it received Paster and Bernstein’s application.
“(The association) was not, however, free to promise equal access to rent wedding space to heterosexual couples irrespective of their tradition and then except (Bernstein and Paster),” Judge Metzger stated.
So, the church-affiliated association violated the agreement into which it had entered to get a tax exemption, and lost the exemption as a consequence.  The group had apparently so far abandoned its faith commitment that it was willing to let Papists, Jews, Mohammedans, Hindoos, even Presbyterians use the pavilion, but it suddenly got religion and drew the line at queers. 

Dreher quotes law professor and "religious liberty expert" Susan Fretwell Wilson on the Ocean Grove case: "That tax benefit is one of the most substantial benefits religious groups receive from the government. Although the group had elected a local tax status tied to public access, if state and local governments use this as a guide for how to deal with religious organizations that don’t accept same-sex marriage, that could be a big deal."

Dreher ought to pick his authorities more carefully.  (For one thing, Wilson breezily assures us that "Everybody knows that [church] sanctuaries are going to be out of the reach of same-sex marriage laws."  If only! The idea that little churches in the glen will have gay weddings rammed down their throats still inspires panic in "traditionalist" circles.) There's no reason to suppose that Ocean Grove will be used "as a guide for how to deal with religious organizations that don't accept same-sex marriage", because the principle involved is well-established in other domains of "religious freedom."  Affiliated religious organizations previously faced the same choice between tax exemption and the freedom to discriminate on the basis of race.  The most famous example is probably Bob Jones University, a private Christian college which admitted no black students for many years, and when that policy was changed refused to admit "interracial" (but heterosexual!) couples and banned mixed-race dating among its already-enrolled students, based on the Joneses' religious beliefs.  As Wikipedia tells it:
Under pre-1970 IRS regulations, tax exemptions were awarded to private schools regardless of their racial admissions policies, and Bob Jones University was approved for a tax exemption under that policy. Pursuant to a 1970 revision to IRS regulations that limited tax-exempt status to private schools without racially discriminatory admissions policies, the IRS informed the University on November 30, 1970 that the IRS was planning on revoking its tax exempt status as a "religious, charitable . . . or educational" institution. In response, the University filed suit in 1971 in Bob Jones University v. Schultz.
Which they lost, and with it their tax exemption.  The noted Constitutional scholar Ronald Reagan intervened on BJU's behalf, then flipflopped, but in 1983 the US Supreme Court upheld the denial of the exemption in an 8-1 decision.  (Reagan was a true Christian, it must be noted, turning the other cheek after Bob Jones III denounced him "as 'a traitor to God's people' for the sin of choosing as his vice president George H.W. Bush, whom Jones called 'a devil.'")  In 2000, BJU abandoned its prohibition of interracial dating and marriage, admitting that they couldn't remember what the biblical evidence against it was.

While Bob Jones University is a marginal institution, opposition to racial desegregation was widespread in American Protestant Christianity, notably in (but not limited to) the Southern Baptist Convention.  The SBC is the largest Protestant denomination in the US, and the second largest Christian denomination after the Roman Catholic Church.  It has come a long way since it emerged in 1845 to defend slavery and white supremacy, having apologized for its racist past and elected its first black President just last year, but it still denounces same-sex marriage with as much conviction as it ever denounced Abolition and Race-Mixing.

Then there are the segregation academies, private schools founded around the United States after the Supreme Court ruled public-school segregation unconstitutional in 1954. Many were explicitly Christian.  Some are still around.  Some manage to get federal funds.  Some get tax-exempt status by admitting one or two token black students.  The point is that the concerns Dreher and Wilson express are nothing new in American life.  Religious doctrine and civil rights have often clashed, and there's no simple way to resolve the conflict.

The rest of Dreher's piece is predictable: Christian bakers who get into trouble because they refused to bake a cake for a homosexual wedding, and of course, "religious conservatives are increasingly demonized for their beliefs about homosexuality."
And not just religious conservatives. In August, Dartmouth withdrew its job offer to a African Anglican bishop hired to run a campus spirituality and ethics center because of his past opposition to gay rights. Though Bishop James Tengatenga, a widely respected and effective advocate for peace and reconciliation in his native Malawi, had since evolved into a gay-supporting liberal Anglican, the fact that he hadn’t always been one cost him his job.
There are a lot of schools in this country that would withdraw job offers to bishops who'd "evolved into a gay-supporting liberal".  (For that matter, a pro-gay Catholic priest in Australia was recently excommunicated by Pope Francis.  I wonder what Dreher would say about that.)  I suspect that Dreher is shading the story a bit to make it fit his narrative, but even accepting his version it's hard to see how he can object to a private school making hiring decisions based on the candidates' values.  Maybe he's ignorant of the heresy trials that have riven hardline Christian schools in recent years.  I recall, but I'm not going to bother tracking it down today, the case of a professor at a Baptist (I think) college in the 1980s or 90s, who was accused of having denied the "once saved, always saved" doctrine of his denomination.  They couldn't hang him or burn him at the stake, but they could fire him, and as I recall, they did.  Plenty of faculty have been fired from conservative schools for being too liberal on gay or other issues.  Surely Dreher recognizes that the autonomy of denominations and their institutions is a pillar of religious freedom.  If he believes that conservative or "traditionalist" religious institutions have the right to be bigoted, he must extend the same right to liberal ones.  I believe in intellectual freedom and have often criticized decisions to fire staff based on their expressed opinions (even when I disagree with those opinions), but I'm not a conservative.

I certainly expect that the spreading recognition of same-sex marriage will produce conflicts with entrenched religious beliefs.  So did the success of the Civil Rights movement; so did the anti-slavery movement; so did the emancipation of Jews in Europe; so did the struggle for religious freedom, a struggle that is far from over yet.  Specific cases are going to be decided wrongly (in my opinion, no less than in Dreher's), but it can hardly be news that freedom -- including religious freedom -- isn't absolute.  Religious freedom doesn't grant conservative Christians the freedom to interfere with the lives of gay people -- or African-Americans, or Jews, or other conservative Christians.  Remember that lovely passage by a Pilgrim Father who wrote that "All Familists, Antinomians, Anabaptists, and other Enthusiasts shall have free liberty to keepe away from us"? And the other who wrote that "Tis Satan's policy to plead for an indefinite and boundless toleration. ..."?  Our founding fathers had to give up the pleasure of torturing and killing each other for the sake of the Gospel in order to build a free nation; indeed, they gave it up voluntarily, to save themselves from being killed and otherwise oppressed.  Some, though, have never quite gotten over the loss of that pristine original liberty.

To be continued...