The Chickens Come Home to Roost
Very interesting article in the April 29 New York Times by Michael Paulson entitled “State’s Gay-Marriage Ban Is Challenged by Church”. It states “In a novel legal attack on a state’s same-sex marriage ban, a liberal Protestant denomination on Monday filed a lawsuit arguing that North Carolina in unconstitutionally restricting religious freedom by barring clergy members from blessing gay and lesbian couples”. You may have thought that religious-oriented lawsuits and proposed statutes that have been all the rage (and I do mean rage) in recent days were the exclusive province of religious conservatives. And for the most part, you would be right. But it doesn’t have to be that way, as this lawsuit attests.
So what will those clamoring for “freedom of religion” when it comes to Hobby Lobby’s right on religious grounds to deny insurance coverage for its employees’ contraceptive needs have to say about this? We don’t have to go far to find out, as later in the article Tami Fitzgerald of the “North Carolina Values Coalition” is quoted as saying “It’s both ironic and sad that an entire religious denomination and its clergy who purport holding to Christian teachings on marriage would look to the courts to justify their errant beliefs”. Oh, I get it now. The civil courts of the United States of America exist to uphold the religious rights of conservatives only. But unfortunately for Ms. Fitzgerald, and fortunately for the rest of us, our laws do not work that way. All those conservative groups that were so eager to use civil law (both in the courts and in various legislatures) to protect their “religious freedom” now are faced with a liberal-leaning church doing the same thing, and they do not appear to like it one bit. The courts are not allowed to take a position on which beliefs are “errant” or not; they can only ensure that freedom of religion is not improperly infringed upon for all religious beliefs. If conservative opponents of marriage equality want to prevail in court in this new case, they will have to come up with a better argument than “we’re right about scripture and they’re wrong”. That kind of argument is simply not within the court’s jurisdiction. Freedom of religion cuts multiple ways, and it is conservatives who have blazed the trail of going to court to enforce their so-called right to get around civil law by claiming 1st Amendment Free Exercise rights. Now that a liberal religious denomination is doing the same, the chickens appear to be coming home to roost, and there’s nothing that religious conservatives can do about it. Of course, if they truly revere the Constitution’s Free Exercise clause, they would support this lawsuit on purely Free Exercise grounds, even though they do not agree with the ultimate goal of the lawsuits petitioners, which is to be allowed to perform same-sex marriages within their particular denomination. But that would force them to relinquish one of their most cherished values: rank hypocrisy. They’re the ones who have been arguing for the right to circumvent established civil law by claiming it interferes with their right to exercise their religion. Now that liberals are following their tactical lead, they will just have to accept that what is good for the goose is good for the gander (which I promise will be the last poultry-related metaphor in this essay).