I have great respect for Marc Stern, who has long been the religious-liberty point man for the American Jewish Congress. He describes himself as being "firmly opposed to same-sex marriage on religious grounds." He agrees with the conclusions of a recent conference sponsored by the Becket Fund, a Washington-based religious freedom group. The conference brought together constitutional scholars--some favoring and some opposed to same-sex marriage--who were united in believing that the adoption of same-sex marriage will set off a firestorm over religious freedom, and freedom of speech, such as this country has seldom seen.
Nobody should think that the recent vote in the Senate on the Federal Marriage Amendment is the end of the matter. Also misleading is the claim that the vote on the FMA was simply aimed at ginning up support from conservative voters for the November election, although that thought no doubt crossed the minds of Republican leaders. The FMA represents a potent and long-term effort, and it will keep coming back, possibly strengthened by building support for a constitutional convention.
Keep in mind, too, the number of senators who voted against FMA because, they said, they were relying on the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) signed by President Clinton in 2001. That act defines marriage, for all purposes of federal law, as a union between a man and a woman. If, these senators said, the courts undid DOMA, then they would possibly move to support the FMA. Of course, the top court in Massachusetts has already mandated same-sex marriage for that state, but it is said that Massachusetts is eccentric and hardly a harbinger of things to come in other states. That is a consoling thought that may turn out to be a delusion.
But back to Marc Stern. Writing in the New York Sun, he says: "Proponents of same-sex marriage rest their case largely on claims of toleration. In a diverse society, their argument goes, government should not impose a particular and restrictive moral vision on the whole society." He ends his reflection with this:
Tolerance ought to be a two-way street. A vibrant tolerance would allow for formal recognition of same-sex relationships and their acceptance in the secular economy and (as far as possible) the right of persons with moral and religious views to refuse to accept those relationships as valid in their own lives and institutions. In keeping with the current degraded status of American political debate, proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage each seek total victory. We would all be better off if, for once, the extremists did not capture the debate.
This way of putting the question is riddled with problems. It is not a question of government imposing "a particular and restrictive moral vision." Marriage and family long precede this government or any other existing government. It is pre-political. It is a question of government recognizing, respecting, and legally protecting an institution essential to human flourishing. Is marriage between one man and one woman "restrictive"? Of course it is. Just as the definition of any institution, or anything else for that matter, is restrictive. It is this and therefore it is not that. There may be all kinds of relationships, including legal relationships, between two men, two women, or any combination of any number of men and women. But to call such relationships "marriage" is to indulge in word games. Humpty Dumpty and his claim that words mean whatever he says they mean should have no place in a rational legal order.
Stern rightly observes, "When same-sex marriage is legalized, support for same-sex marriage will be fundamental public policy too." He goes on to hope that there will be legal exemptions for people and institutions that have moral and religious objections to same-sex marriage. That is highly unlikely. Fundamental public policy means policy enforced by law, as in laws against racial discrimination.
The proponents of same-sex marriage know this perfectly well. Already, Marc Stern notes, the code of ethics of the American Psychological Association regarding homosexuality excludes those who think there may be a problem with homosexuality. That is but a small part of it. People are being fired from jobs in the public and private sectors for publicly suggesting that homosexuality is "objectively disordered" (as the Catechism of the Catholic Church puts it). Students are disciplined for dissenting from the propaganda of "gay weeks" in public schools.
For fear of discrimination suits, major law firms exclude from personnel committees anybody who is known to have incorrect thoughts about what Mencken called non-Euclidian sexual acts. The courts have already declared that "prejudice" with respect to homosexuality has no "rational basis." Marc Stern hopes that dissenting institutions, such as churches and synagogues, will be permitted to keep their tax exemptions. Maybe so, although some may wonder why religious leaders, officially certified as irrational, should not be committed for therapy.
"Tolerance ought to be a two-way street." You let us radically change the definition of marriage for the whole society, and we will not punish you--or at least we will not take away your tax exemption--if you continue to say that marriage is a union between one man and one woman. You tolerate our intolerance of what societies from time immemorial have meant by marriage, and we will tolerate, within limits, your morally contemptible eccentricity in continuing to say that that is what marriage means. Give us the legal power to enforce our will, and we promise to respect, under a kind of grandfather clause, your expression of unenlightened dissent in private. Some two-way street.
Of course, the proponents of same-sex marriage do not really expect the American people to surrender so obligingly. They are looking to the courts to "impose a particular and restrictive moral vision on the whole society"--their moral vision, which very specifically excludes a very different moral vision of sexuality, marriage, and family. Marc Stern is apparently prepared to live under a regime of dhimmitude in which he and like-minded dissenters will, he hopes, not be treated too harshly. One would like to believe that most Americans and their political representatives will, in the time that remains, recognize the need for the Federal Marriage Amendment, or something very much like it.
In addition to which:
Father Richard John Neuhaus will be among the speakers in Philadelphia next Saturday and Sunday at the EWTN 25th Anniversary Family Celebration. He will be speaking 9:30 to 10:30 Saturday morning at the Liacouras Center of Temple University, and will be a guest, along with Peggy Noonan, for a live version of Raymond Arroyo's television program, The World Over, that evening. He will also be signing his new book, Catholic Matters. He says he would be very glad to see you there.
Of course we must work, and work assiduously, for better understanding of Islam and with Islam. But that better understanding begins with a relentlessly honest appreciation of the obstacles to anything like peaceful coexistence. Helping us to make that beginning is the great contribution of "Islam and Us" by George Cardinal Pell, Archbishop of Sydney, Australia. "Islam and Us" is among the compelling and informative articles in the June/July issue of First Things. Isn't it time for you to subscribe to First Things?