So I am pleased that same sex marriage passed in New York. Yet I also want to add the caveats that I don't believe that mirroring the heterosexual paradigm should be the be all and end all of rights for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender and Queer persons. As young queer people have told us, marriage is all well and good but they are more worried about surviving middle school and high school and whether or not their parents will throw them out of the house.
Yet my concern here is about the religion exemption clause that is part of the same sex marriage bill in New York, has been part of the proposed legislation in California and is in the newly passed civil union bill in Rhode Island. On the surface these seem innocuous ... a bone to those on the right who suddenly think that just because civil marriage is allowed for same sex couples that clergy and faith communities might somehow have to participate in these marriages even if it is against their teachings. After all what is the harm to put these clauses in if it makes people feel better and they will vote the right way?
First no clergy person or faith community is under any obligation, ever to perform a civil marriage - any marriage between any people. In fact religious communities can marry or not marry whoever they choose although not all those marriages may be recognized by the state as valid civil marriages. Such has been the state of same-sex couples whose faith communities, like Unitarian Universalism, have long been blessing their unions. There is no need for these clauses because faith communities and clergy people have a choice to bless or not bless any union.
So what is the concern? Well maybe I am just a bit paranoid but as the saying goes just because you are paranoid doesn't mean they aren't out to get you. I am concerned that in putting these clauses in these bills we are one still saying that same sex unions are not as worthy as heterosexual ones and that some how faith communities need extra protection from the LGBTQ community. Again it feeds the notion that LGBTQ people, their relationships, their families and their lives pose some sort of threat.
Secondly we have seen how the right and in particular the religious right never just let go of these fights even when they lose in the public square. Let's take contraception and abortion rights. The right knows it may not be able to undue Roe vs Wade but they can make it difficult if not impossible for a person to access contraceptives and abortions. Let's look at conscience clauses for pharmacists. Let's look at Kansas and Virginia that are using health and safety regulations to close clinics and make it more difficult for women to access reproductive health services. How might these clauses be used to further limit the rights of same sex couples to get married and to access full rights and responsibilities that come with civil marriage? Will hospitals be allowed to claim a religious exemption and not let a same sex spouse visit their sick loved one? Will cemeteries be allowed to deny same sex couples buying a joint plot? Will various non-profit and other organizations be able to claim a religious exemption from offering benefits to same sex spouses because of these clauses? And just like with abortion rights, I would not be at all surprised that courts would go along with these exemptions.
Maybe it is time to fully separate religious and civil marriage. After all why are religious leaders allowed to act as officers of the state in this instance? Maybe we need to require all couples to have a civil marriage ceremony and then they can choose whether or not to have a religious one. Let's separate civil marriage and religious marriage.
Let us render unto Caesar what is Caesar's and unto the Holy what is Holy.