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NYT op-ed on same-sex marriage presents a compromise

By pams
Monday, February 23, 2009 14:00 EDT
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Is there any way to compromise on the matter of civil marriage when it comes to the LGBT rights movement and the religious right? David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch think there is and outline it in the op-ed “A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage” in the NYT. They believe we are at an impasse and both sides need to find common ground. Hear them out.

It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.

…Whatever our disagreements on the merits of gay marriage, we agree on two facts. First, most gay and lesbian Americans feel they need and deserve the perquisites and protections that accompany legal marriage. Second, many Americans of faith and many religious organizations have strong objections to same-sex unions. Neither of those realities is likely to change any time soon.

Further sharpening the conflict is the potential interaction of same-sex marriage with antidiscrimination laws. The First Amendment may make it unlikely that a church, say, would ever be coerced by law into performing same-sex wedding rites in its sanctuary. But religious organizations are also involved in many activities outside the sanctuary. What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status? What if a faith-based nonprofit is told it will lose its tax-exempt status if it refuses to allow a same-sex wedding on its property?

OK. I have a problem with this already, though I see where they are trying to accomplish — getting same-sex couples access to the rights and benefits of civil marriage and cede the word marriage to those who cannot decouple it from religious marriage in their heads. Obviously, Kate and I would take that considering we have no recognition in our state and won’t unless action comes from the feds or SCOTUS, but Blankenhorn and Rauch’s solution, by accommodating the “misunderstanding” about the word marriage — rather than redefining it (something that has occurred countless times in the past), chooses to draw an institutionalized line of discrimination. Many of the same excuses for bans on interracial marriage revolved around religious objections to it, with scripture cited about the morality of race mixing. Would they have suggested an entire new federal civil institution be created to resolve the problem because the American people weren’t ready?

More below the fold. It’s about long and short term gain. Blankenhorn and Rauch believe the escalation of the conflict rolling out in lawsuits around the country and the patchwork of rights in the states make it a necessity to find middle ground in an expedient manner.

Cases of this sort are already arising in the courts, and religious organizations that oppose same-sex marriage are alarmed. Which brings us to what we think is another important fact: Our national conversation on this issue will be significantly less contentious if religious groups can be confident that they will not be forced to support or facilitate gay marriage.

..Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.

And now, the finger-wagging:

In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief.

But clinging to extremes can also be quite dangerous. In the case of gay marriage, a scorched-earth debate, pitting what some regard as nonnegotiable religious freedom against what others regard as a nonnegotiable human right, would do great harm to our civil society. When a reasonable accommodation on a tough issue seems possible, both sides should have the courage to explore it.

Sorry to say, our opponents are acting in bad faith. They attempt to sway positions with outright lies, such as conflating homosexuality with bestiality, thus leading to, say, man-goat nuptials, something that has nothing to do with any sane religious conviction, btw. That’s extremism and intellectually bankrupt fear-mongering. The problem with the religious right is that they don’t want any compromise, because the ultimate goal is to have government intervention and control on all matters of sex and reproductive freedom — those are issues that extend way beyond civil marriage or social security benefits for same-sex spouses.

If anything, the marriage equality movement has been the faction constantly forced into compromise in the form of separate and unequal domestic partnerships and civil unions. These are incremental gains that have had a positive impact on same-sex couples, but it has also created this patchwork faux equality that is causing the legal machinations we are seeing.

The flawed premise of this op-ed is that both sides of the issue have equal power; that’s illogical. The side on the status quo in this case holds the power and doesn’t want to cede any of it, obviously, because it sees that granting the power of civil equality is threat to its vision of the country and the existence of marriage as they understand it. The side of social change always has the uphill battle, and the law leads, not follows the people when it is a contentious issue. And even when the law extends civil rights, that doesn’t mean the public is ready to or willing to accept that change. We’re clearly still fighting race-based civil rights issues, and that reflects a society that has not fully matured on the matter. It will be no different as LGBTs win civil rights, one by one.

In making compromises to tamp down the conflict that make Blankenhorn and Rauch so uncomfortable, we all must go in with our eyes open that the impact of compromise may have unintended consequences that may take years to extract ourselves from by creating a separate and unequal system. Is it worth the price? In Blankenhorn’s and Rauch’s compromise, it brings a host of rights to couples unable to obtain them because of the laws in their states. By rejecting compromise and working incrementally, those in states with few or no rights remain second-class citizens at any level for who knows how long (before the U.S. Supreme Court ultimately decides the matter).

So, Blenders…weigh in.

 
 
 
 
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