The polarizing trends of our current cultural moment are alive and well, alas, in the debate over civil marriage for gay couples. We seem incapable of compromise, of an unsatisfactory (to both sides) middle ground, of the give-and-take that makes a liberal society possible. And so we now come across a proposal for religious ministers to withdraw from any role in establishing civil marriage – for straights as well as gays. The institution is now so tainted no minister should acquiesce to it. Hence this proposed pastoral pledge, endorsed by the editor of First Things:
In our roles as Christian ministers, we, the undersigned, commit ourselves to disengaging civil and Christian marriage in the performance of our pastoral duties. We will no longer serve as agents of the state in marriage. We will no longer sign government-provided marriage certificates. We will ask couples to seek civil marriage separately from their church-related vows and blessings. We will preside only at those weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.
Of course, these pastors are well within their rights to do this. Maybe some more secular types will even welcome it. I find it merely sad and somewhat spiteful. Does accommodating a tiny minority in the civil rights and responsibilities of civil marriage really require all Christian ministers to withdraw from their traditional role in certifying a civil marriage? It’s just one more thread removed from our commonality.
And, then, of course, there’s the absolutism of the hard left on these matters. The idea that you cannot simply live with people who don’t want to celebrate or participate in gay marriages – but have to sue them to enforce equality – is also likely to make things worse, not better. Over-reaching to restrict religious freedom unravels us as a society – and abjures the simple virtues of getting along. Then there’s this kind of maneuver, which is an extreme outlier – but would have lots of support on the hard left if they had their druthers. Catalonia has just passed a new bill protecting gays, lesbians and transgender people from discrimination. But with a twist:
The new law includes a range of sanctions, which has been one of the most controversial points of the new legal framework. The sanctions include fines, whose amount is graded in relation to the seriousness of the offense. The parties supporting the new measure argued that without sanctions, the new law would be “a mere statement of good will”. Furthermore, another controversial aspect is that those accused of being homophobic against somebody will have to prove their innocence, instead of the victim having to prove the accused’s guilt. This positive discrimination measure is already in place for other offenses, such as domestic violence against women, in instances when it is very difficult to prove.
And this is not that far from what the Obama administration has decreed is appropriate for campuses. No wonder the defense lawyers are gearing up for conflict. What’s missing from this is balance, some accommodation for all in a society, and a fair judicial system to separate the true from the false. Raising awareness of how this stuff can happen with impunity is extremely important – just as signaling a religious opposition to civil marriage for gays is well within the bounds of fair advocacy. But finding a way not to over-reach is a trickier task. And we’re not doing so well with that right now, are we?