Same-sex marriage is raising some pretty urgent questions about religious liberty and pluralism. Is the religious liberty of people who practice same-sex marriage infringed upon if government does not recognize those unions? Does government recognition of those unions involve a contraction of religious liberty for those who don't recognize them? How can we live together with diverse beliefs?
Today, First Things carries a debate on the question “Does the court's opinion in Windsor strengthen or endanger religious pluralism?” Andrew March of Yale University argues that the Supreme Court's decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act “strikes a blow for religious pluralism” by increasing the availability of diverse marriage practices, and suggests that freedom for additional diversity of practices—such as polygamy—would further increase religious pluralism. Daniel Kelly of the law firm Rogahn Kelly LLC argues that religious pluralism is not well served if we increase the diversity of available practices while simultaneously decreasing people's overall freedom to live in accordance with their consciences, and that Windsor leads directly to the suppression of religious freedom for those who dissent from same-sex marriage orthodoxy. I was pleased to facilitate this debate in an editorial role.
March and Kelly are contributors to two new scholarly volumes on the politics of religious pluralism, with a special focus on the philosophy of Rawls (which is, I think, presupposed to a very large extent by courts in cases like Windsor). March contributed to Rawls and Religion, which collects essays supportive of the Rawlsian approach. Kelly contributed to John Rawls and Christian Social Engagement: Justice as Unfairness, which I co-edited, and whose subtitle gives you a pretty accurate sense of what the volume's contributors think of Rawls.
The most interesting aspect of the debate for me is the question of “dignity.” Kelly attacks the court for presuming to confer human dignity upon practitioners of same-sex marriage; the law, he argues, cannot confer dignity upon human beings—and it cannot even effectively compel people to recognize one another's human dignity. March, for his part, accepts the possibility of “justifiable transfers from one ledger to another in the national economy of dignity,” pointing to civil rights laws. For my own part, I have never gone as far as my friend Dan in discounting the role of public law in constructing our conceptions of meaning and purpose. We are, after all, cultural creatures. But I share his view that we cannot really form a meaningful concept of dignity that would make it subject to redistribution through political action—dignity isn't dignity unless it's intrinsic.
Check out the debate here and let me know what you think in the comments!
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