It’s entirely possible that, when it comes to gay marriage and the First Amendment, pluralism won’t work.

Rodney King got his 15 minutes of fame for (a) getting beaten up while resisting arrest; (b) having his name attached to some horrific riots; and (c) plaintively asking “Can we get along?”  The last is a great thought.  I’d like to get along with people better myself.  “Getting along,” though, presupposes that people have the same goals and values.  In our pluralist society, even when we have differences, we mostly limp along all right.  Elections shuttle different value systems in and out of power and (at least when the unions aren’t rioting) Americans expect a peaceful transition.

Still, even pluralist societies have bottom line values, things as to which we’re not willing to bend (although, lately, it’s getting harder to pinpoint just what those values are).  Up until recently, one of those values was that “marriage qua marriage” was a one man, one woman deal.  In recent years, we were willing to contemplate “civil unions,” but “marriage” remained sacrosanct.

Also, because of the First Amendment, another American bottom-line is that the government cannot meddle in religious doctrine.  Some confused people think the First Amendment outlaws religion, or outlaws religious people from participating in politics, but most understand that — unless they’re calling for human or animal sacrifice, or polygamy — the American government leaves religion alone.

I have said all along that the main problem with the gay marriage debate is that, by creating an entirely new bottom line (gay marriage) we’re going to see two bottom lines crash into each other.  You see, traditional male/female marriage meshed nicely with the vast majority of traditional religious norms.  Gay marriage, however, does not mesh with traditional religion.  While Progressive churches and synagogues have opened their doors to gay marriages, more traditional ones, especially the Orthodox Jewish faith and the Catholic Church, have not done so.

When I’ve raised this concern to people, they scoffed.  One liberal told me that, even though abortions are legal, the government has never gone toe-to-toe with the Catholic Church.  He looked a bit taken aback, and had no response, when I pointed out that the Catholic Church doesn’t provide, or withhold, abortions; it simply speaks against them doctrinally.  The Church does, however, marry people, and that leaves open the possibility that a gay couple will sue the church for refusing to perform a marriage service.

Others, while acknowledging that my point has a certain intellectual validity, say that it will never happen.  I’m not so sure, especially after reading a story out of England involving a Pentecostal couple who were told that, as long as their religion held that homosexuality is not acceptable behavior, they could not foster needy children:

A Christian couple morally opposed to homosexuality today lost a High Court battle over the right to become foster carers.

Eunice and Owen Johns, aged 62 and 65, from Oakwood, Derby, went to court after a social worker expressed concerns when they said they could not tell a child a ‘homosexual lifestyle’ was acceptable.

The Pentecostal Christian couple had applied to Derby City Council to be respite carers but withdrew their application believing it was ‘doomed to failure’ because of the social worker’s attitude to their religious beliefs.

The couple deny that they are homophobic and said they would love any child they were given. However, what they were ‘not willing to do was to tell a small child that the practice of homosexuality was a good thing’.

What’s relevant to this post is that the judges explicitly held that homosexual rights trump religious rights:

Lord Justice Munby and Mr Justice Beatson ruled that laws protecting people from discrimination because of their sexual orientation ‘should take precedence’ over the right not to be discriminated against on religious grounds.

Admitted, Britain does not have a First Amendment.  However, as I noted above, First Amendment or not, our government bars, and (when Mormons are involved) actively prosecutes, polygamy.  It does so despite the fact that polygamy was official doctrine for the Mormons and is official doctrine for the Muslims.  Likewise, although Voodoo is recognized as a religion, we don’t let practitioners engage in animal sacrifice.  In other words, First Amendment or not, the government will interfere in religious doctrine if it runs completely afoul of a bottom-line American value.

If gay marriage is deemed Constitutional, we suddenly have two conflicting bottom-line values — gay marriage and religious freedom.  I’m not predicting how this will turn out.  I’m just saying that, if I was the Catholic Church or an Orthodox synagogue, I’d start having my lawyers look at this one now.

Cross-posted at Right Wing News

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  • suek

    I’ll have to look up links, but I believe that the Catholic Church has closed its adoption agencies in either New York or Massachusetts because they were told they could not discriminate against gay couples (or singles?) in selecting potential adoptive parents.

  • MacG

    The Muslim community in North Carolina has a sacrifice at a local slaughter house built to their specifications where they yearly sacrifice a lamb as a celebration of life when God spared Issac. A funny typo just occured “when God speard Issac” ‘uh, no that would be spared Issac’  “That’s very different. Never mind”.

  • Charles Martel

    I don’t think anybody but a crazy would attempt to force the Catholic Church to “marry” homosexual couples. That is no more in the Church’s job description than serving pork BBQ is for the halal food joint that’s next door to a mosque. In other words, you cannot force a religion to do something that it is incapable of doing simply to accommodate a tiny deviant group. (Deviancy here meant as departure from an ancient social norm.)

    I was about to say that any competent judge would simply throw the damned suit out of court, but after suffering through the Reign of Dunderheads like Ginsburg, Stevens, Souter, the Ninth Circuit Court, et al., I fear Book may be right: The Catholic Church should start getting its constitutional lawyers warming up in the bull pen.

    So, let’s say a court tells the Catholic Church it must “marry” homosexuals. The Church will do what it has done many times before: go underground. It will conduct the sacrament of marriage at its own times and places of choice. If the authorities attempt prosecution/persecution, that there are a lot of armed Mormons and Baptists who may disagree doctrinally with Rome but would happily join their more militant Catholic brothers in making those in power pay dearly.

  • suek

    This is a pay-for article.  It doesn’t say much more than the below before requiring either subscription or pay for print.  I chose not to do either…

    More of the same in the UK, but free to read.

  • Charles

    Suek – I, too, remember reading something along those lines quite a while ago.  I believe that it was because of their refusal to let single parents adopt.

    I’m not so sure that the Catholic Church or any other church will be sued for refusing to perform a marriage I do believe that they will be sued for not allowing gays to adopt. With gay “marriage” instead of civil unions it will be just a matter of time.

    While it is possible for a child to thrive in a single parent household (many do). Studies have shown that children do better in a household with both a mother and a father; therefore, I do believe that it is in the best interest of the child to be adopted by two parents – a mother and a father. Political correctness be damned.

    And please, keep in mind that radical gays (or radicals of any group) do not represent most folks within that group.  Many of us do NOT associate with them.

    The radical gays will attack the Church, as they have always done. (ever see the jerks in front of St. Patrick’s in NYC during Gay Pride?  There is nothing to be “proud” about by giving the finger to a building or doing things much worse!)

    P.S. Book, some forms of animal sacrifice (usually chickens, but sometimes goats) are allowed in NYC by followers of Santeria.  I cannot remember when it was, but a NY State supreme court upheld their right to do so.  Even if it is done in an apartment building without the proper facilities to clean up afterwards! How would you like THAT going on in the apartment above you or next door?

  • excathedra

    It is my experience that inside many “victims” lies a tyrant. Gays are no different. Revenge on the institutions that have made them feel bad or excluded is not a motivation to be underestimated.
    On one level, the scenario of Catholic gays –they’d have to be Catholic– suing their own church for marriage is ludicrous. Unless non Catholic gays want to sue the Church for discriminating against them on grounds of their religion! But a lot of things have happened in the last fifty years that no one would have ever imagined before…including a national debate about same sex marriage.
    New Mexico fined a Christian photographer for declining to work for two lesbians at their wedding.
    Two Canadian lesbian won damages against a Catholic facility for refusing to rent to them for their wedding.
    And then the guy who declined the rental got fired from his job.
    Stuff like this makes me crazy. People like this would never considering renting out their own gay venues to people they found objectionable but will drag you to court unless you kowtow to them.

  • excathedra

    While I’m in the mood…Harvard gay pastor Peter Gomes just died, a late life crusader against religious strictures on homosexual people. Here’s a quote from his obituary
    “Religious fundamentalism is dangerous because it cannot accept ambiguity and diversity and is therefore inherently intolerant,” he declared in an Op-Ed article for The New York Times in 1992. “Such intolerance, in the name of virtue, is ruthless and uses political power to destroy what it cannot convert.”
    Jung has a theory, riffing on Heraclitus, that extremes turn into their opposite. I have found this often to be true. The leftist secularist (aka Christianity and Judaism hating) fundamentalism is exactly as described above.

  • MacG

    “Religious fundamentalism is dangerous because it cannot accept ambiguity and diversity and is therefore inherently intolerant,”
    Really? Imagine the Folsom Street Fair in Washington’s time.  How’d we get this far? Tolerance.

  • MacG

    Imagine the Folsom Street Fair under Sahria Law (Link is Google search results maybe NSFW)

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  • esurio

    In the spring of 2007 a lesbian couple in NJ sued a local Methodist church for its refusal to allow the couple use of the church’s boardwalk pavilion for the couple’s civil ceremony. The church had owned and maintained the pavilion for over 100 years; the state sided with the lesbian couple and deemed the pavilion public property. The couple claimed that the decision in no way should require religious groups to endorse or perform civil unions (cough, cough). “Only that a public accommodation must be open for equal use by all, regardless of sexual orientation.”

    I have a feeling we will not see lawsuits (they will sue) against conservative religions until SSM becomes Federal law. To pursue lawsuits now at the state level would hurt their cause. To avoid costly and lengthy lawsuits the various religions could still perform the sacrament (religious ceremony) of marriage, couples would then need to pursue a civil marriage on their own for their marriage to be recognized by the state – but this would be abdicating First Amendment rights which I do not recommend.

  • MacG

    “I have a feeling we will not see lawsuits (they will sue) against conservative religions until SSM becomes Federal law”
    I would not be surprised to see several “couples” that want to force the issue like the several wheel chair bound that go hunting for “inaccessible” business to sue.  With any luck they’ll start at Westborough Baptist.

  • Charles


    “In the spring of 2007 a lesbian couple in NJ sued a local Methodist church for its refusal to allow the couple use of the church’s boardwalk pavilion for the couple’s civil ceremony. The church had owned and maintained the pavilion for over 100 years; the state sided with the lesbian couple and deemed the pavilion public property.”

    Sorry, to disagree with you; but that is only part of the story. 

    This took place in Ocean Grove, NJ, which is an unincorporated section of Neptune, NJ.  The area known as Ocean Grove is mostly held by the Ocean Grove Methodist Church.  Folks who live there “rent” their homes from the church.  Many of the structures, such as the Great Auditorium are NOT open to the public, they are for members only.  The Great Auditorium was not involved in this case.

    The issue is this: while it is true that the buildings and such are owned by the church, it is equally true that some areas and buildings are open to the public.  The Pavilion is one such structure (the boardwalk being another).  Since the public has access to this structure and other non-members (i.e. with no association to the church at all) have been able to have weddings there then it would be wrong for the church to not allow anyone who is willing to pay the standard fee (if there is one) to hold a wedding there.

    Regardless of what one thinks of others, if you open an area or structure to “public-use” then it is open to public use.  That was the heart of that court case.  It really wasn’t about religion.

    Further, while it is true that the Church holds the deed to the land and the structures, they have taken tax-dollars to help with cost of maintaining/repairing these historic structures.

    If someone wants to restrict who can or cannot use THEIR property – then they shouldn’t open it to the public and shouldn’t take tax dollars for upgrading or maintaining or repairing that property.  That is what was at the heart of that court case.

    For those not familiar with Ocean Grove, NJ, which I assume is most of Book’s readers; For the Great Auditorium think of a building with locked doors; clearly access is restricted.  For the Pavilion think of a bandstand that you might typically see in a public park, only this is much larger and on a boardwalk.  Unless there is some event going on, such as a wedding, ANYONE can simply walk in at any time.  I hope that clears up that news report and folks don’t think is as “dismal” as it might at first seem.

    P.S.  I can see why one would want to have a wedding there.  Ocean Grove is a very pleasant area and the Pavilion is nice and would be perfect for an “outdoor” wedding; rain or shine.

  • suek

    >>With any luck they’ll start at Westborough Baptist.>>
    Aaahhh yess… the Westborough Baptists…   Now they’re an interesting group.
    The founder  is a lawyer.  He got disbarred, I think – but I don’t know what for.  His eldest daughter is also a lawyer.  But doesn’t actually practice, in the sense of having an office and representing other people.  What she does is represent the “church”.  The “church” pays her, and pays the rest of them – in other words, it appears to me that their church is their business.  Tax free business – because it’s also a  “religion”.  Their demonstrations are geared towards deliberately agitating people, with an eye for causing some sue-able offense.  Their lawsuits appear to be their sole means of support.
    In my opinion, in other words, it’s a scam.  I have no idea if they actually have deep-seated religious beliefs – they may.  But so do others.  For them it’s a means of physically working very little and reaping the benefits.
    In fact – it’s a little like I feel about Obama and the law – they studied it with the sole purpose of turning the laws to enrich themselves.  Or in Obama’s case, “know your enemy”.  Most people study the laws to achieve justice.  Some people study the law to find ways around it.

  • esurio

    “If someone wants to restrict who can or cannot use THEIR property – then they shouldn’t open it to the public and shouldn’t take tax dollars for upgrading or maintaining or repairing that property.  That is what was at the heart of that court case.”
    I’m not sure I understand you correctly. Should religious organizations stop sharing their resources unless they are willing to change the tenants of their faith?  Perhaps you are right, religious organization should stop sharing their resources.
    As a Catholic I suggest the following: St. Patrick’s Cathedral in NYC should shut their doors. The Immaculate Conception Cathedral in D.C. should no longer hold services for Senators, Representatives & Presidents. Catholic schools should stop the use of their property as polling places during elections.   Obama should not be allowed to give speeches at Notre Dame or Georgetown. Catholic Charities (one of the largest charities in the world) should only give to Catholics. Catholic hospitals should stop admitting non-Catholic patients… etc. etc.

  • Charles


    “sharing THEIR resources” 

    Hardly, they were not sharing THEIR resources.  It was MY tax dollars that helped them to maintain the building and boardwalk that THEY chose to open to public use.  Since it is PUBLIC USE and MY tax dollars they do NOT have the “right” to discrimate against ME or any other tax payor.

    If one wishes to restrict who they associate with that is possible; just do it WITHOUT tax dollar support.

    That really shouldn’t a difficult concept to understand.

    I was simply trying to put out there the FULL story on this NJ case as it is not against religion or religious organizations. It was really a case about public access, tax dollars, and discrimation.  It just happens that the organization involved was religious and those discrimated against were gay. 

    It could very well have involved other non-religious organizations and other individuals; then the  case would have been portrayed by the news media differently.  And other folks would have used the case to further their political agendas.

    It is a shame that far too often the truth gets “lost.”

    P.S.  I am not trying to bash Catholics or any other religious group, I was simply trying to say that the news report you linked to wasn’t telling the full story.

  • Zachriel

    esurio: Catholic schools should stop the use of their property as polling places during elections.  

    That’s a good example. If Catholic schools open their doors as a polling place, they have to let any legal voter in; white, black, Catholic, Muslim, straight, gay, sinner, saint, everyone. 

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