2012 / LGBTQITSLFA
Will Churches in Washington State Be Forced to Perform Same-Sex Weddings?
by Dan Savage
on Thu, Sep 20, 2012 at 10:21 AM
Just got this letter...
I thought I would bounce this off you since you have contributed to my quandary in a small way.
My initial instinct and plan was to vote to approve R-74 and legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state. But when the First Lady spoke at the DNC she used a phrase that bothered me. Every word in her speech was carefully chosen. She could have said something to the effect of a future “where we share the same rights no matter who we love.” I am all for that. But she said something to the effect of “stand before the altar with whomever we love.”
That set of big red flags for me. The same Libertarian streak that tells me that opening up the legal definition of marriage to same-sex couples also tells me that there are people who have very little respect for any religion that doesn’t agree with them. So when I heard Michelle Obama use of the word “altar,” I began to worry that once marriage legally opened to same-sex couples "they" will be going after every church in an effort to force them into compliance. And that I cannot tolerate.
No one fed me this. This is my own analysis of how activism has worked recently. Don’t like Catholic stands on birth control? Enroll at one of their colleges then go after them to change their rules for you instead of picking a college that agrees with you. See what I mean? And given some of your unfortunate rants, Dan, and knowing how this game is played, I suddenly realized legalizing same-sex marriage will create a legal wedge for people like you to attack churches directly rather than taking this new right and using it to create happiness in your own life.
Now I am not sure how to vote. And it bugs me because it is not fair for those couples waiting to live their lives with the same legal protections I have to get caught in the cross fire created by those who think everyone has to agree with them.
You are a pretty straight shooter, Dan, bu you have said some pretty derogatory things about Christians. So I would like to know where will you stand on these questions if Washington state gets marriage equality.
1. Should churches that take a traditional stand against same-sex relationships should lose their tax-exempt status if they won’t perform the ceremony? 2. Or will your attitude be, "I got what I want, so it's not my battle if some churches disapprove and I will remain on the sidelines"? 3. I want my rights protected I sure as heck will take a stand for the religious freedom of all faiths, even if some disagree with my lifestyle choices?
My response after the jump...
As I'm sure you know, K.H., Opposite-sex couples can legally marry right now in Washington state. And they've been free to do so for as long as there's been a Washington state. But Catholic priests can and do refuse to marry opposite-sex couples. They do it all the time. And it is perfectly legal for Catholic priests to discriminate against opposite-sex couples even though straight people are have a legal right to wed. A priest can refuse to marry a straight couple because they're not Catholic, or only one member of the couple is Catholic, or even if both are Catholic but not Catholic enough in the priest's opinion (they're using birth control, they're not regular church goers, etc.). Catholic churches turn away straight couples who want to marry and they do it all the time. And yet no Catholic church has ever been sued by a straight couple and the state has never attempted to force a Catholic church to marry a straight couple.
And the state won't force Catholic churches—or any churches—to marry same-sex couples.
And remember: there are churches that are willing to marry same-sex couples right now. And they do marry us right now—so same-sex couples, even as same-sex marriage remains illegal, are already "standing at the altar" in churches all over Washington state. But they are only standing at the altars of churches that wish to marry them. (And what of the religious freedom of churches that do marry same-sex couples?)
Nothing will change for churches that disapprove of same-sex marriage once same-sex marriage is legalized. Same-sex marriage has been legal in Massachusetts since 2004 and there have been no lawsuits. No jack-booted government thugs have dragged away priests that refused to marry same-sex couples. The same rules that apply right now to interfaith couples, or non-believers, or insufficiently Catholic/Mormon/Jewish/Muslim/Hindu couples will apply after same-sex couples are allowed to wed: civil marriage will be open to all, i.e. the right of marriage. Churches that want to marry us will be able to marry us—and these marriages will be recognized by the state—churches that don't want to marry us won't be forced to. Churches that disapprove will have the freedom to deny us the rite of marriage.
In November you can approve R-74, which will legalize same-sex marriage in Washington state. And when you vote to approve R-74 you'll be writing this language into state law:
"No regularly licensed or ordained minister or any priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any religious organization is required to solemnize or recognize any marriage. A regularly licensed or ordained minister or priest, imam, rabbi, or similar official of any religious organization shall be immune from any civil claim or cause of action based on a refusal to solemnize or recognize any marriage under this section. No state agency or local government may base a decision to penalize, withhold benefits from, or refuse to contract with any religious organization on the refusal of a person associated with such religious organization to solemnize or recognize a marriage under this section."
So when you vote to approve R-74, K.H., you'll be creating the very protections you want to see in place.
1. I don't think churches should lose their tax-exempt statuses for opposing same-sex marriages. 2. That will be my attitude. That's my attitude now. And the only reason gay people are "attacking" churches—or arguing with political opponents who happen to be wearing Roman collars or fronting suburban mega-churches—is because they're attacking/oppressing us. I would have no beef with the Catholic hierarchy if they were content to tell Catholics what to do. But they want to control the lives and limit the freedoms of non-Catholics. And so I have to respond. If the church would leave me and my family alone, I would happily leave the church alone. But the church is attacking me and my family. Please don't mistake self-defense for aggression. 3. I believe that everyone's rights should be protected. People living their lives as they wish and enjoying equal protections under the law are not attacking on anyone else's religious freedom. Conservative Christians who argue that legal gay marriage somehow oppresses them—that the legal existence of marriage they don't have to celebrate, attend, officiate at, or approve of somehow interferes with their religious freedom—are like orthodox Jews arguing for a ban on pork because they feel oppressed by your BLT or Mormons arguing for a ban on alcohol because they feel oppressed by your martini.
Thanks for writing and I hope you'll vote to approve R-74 in November.