If any single reaction to this week’s court rulings on gay marriage received additional attention, it was House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi’s off-mic response to a question about Michele Bachmann.
The day the high court issued its rulings on DOMA and Proposition 8, the outgoing Minnesota congresswoman tweeted, “Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.”
When asked in a press conference for reaction to Bachmann’s tweet, Pelosi shrugged her shoulders and said: “Who cares?”
While some feel this a good response any time Michelle Bachmann opens her mouth, one hopes gay marriage advocates take to heart the opposite sentiment as they pursue legalized gay marriage nationwide.
Patience may be the best virtue here. Gay marriage continues to gain wider acceptance. Most opponents are older and dying off, replaced by younger voters completely at ease with gays and gay marriage. Like interracial marriage, once a scourge of conservatives and the deeply religious, gay marriage will eventually be just another thing society does. In another century, maybe less, we’ll look back on opponents of gay marriage, heads cocked like the old RCA Victor dog, wondering, “What were those people thinking?”
One hopes, however, that, in the years immediately ahead, advocates let gay marriage encroachment take its glacial but inevitable course without ever penetrating the boundaries of peoples’ faiths.
As silly as Bachmann’s quote seems to some – and rest assured, reaction from the nation’s more obstinate corners of religiosity were far more absurd – one should appreciate and respect the concerns of those who worry that their church may one day be forced to perform same-sex weddings.
The common fear, expressed in one national interview by California Rep. Doug LaMalfa, is that gay marriage proponents will push, “not just as a tolerance issue, but into people’s places of worship and religion.”
Opponents of gay marriage – the figureheads and power players, in particular – are quick to stir up anxiety among religious flocks, claiming that “time and time again,” gay marriage activists sue all manner of institution shunning gay marriage, from the church to the wedding photographer, to the baker of wedding cakes.
While such extremists – what movement doesn’t have them? – are unlikely to adopt a more reasonable approach, one hopes the more level-headed supporters of gay marriage will denounce them and defend a religious institution’s right to observe its tenets.
Even conservative legal experts agree that a church’s refusal to perform same-sex marriages is soundly protected by the First Amendment, as it should be. Thus, far more deserving of attention than Ms. Pelosi’s comment was that of NY Rep. Jerrold Nadler who, at that same press conference, noted:
We’re not dealing with religious belief in all these questions. We’re dealing with what the state or the federal government does. We have a separation of church and state in this country. So for government purposes, you can be married. The church may not recognize this. That’s their business. If you don’t want to recognize it from a religious point of view, it’s your business. No one is forcing anybody to get married. The point of the separation of church and state is that when we deal with public business and the celebration of marriage by the state, the recognition by the state of who’s married is not a religious question.
Others express a fear, not of lawsuits, but of relevance. One devout Mormon told KQED radio in San Francisco, “Will my unwillingness to recognize gay and lesbian Americans make me irrelevant to the next generation of Americans?”
Maybe. Organized religion has risked marginalizing itself in various ways for centuries, long before the banning of Copernicus and Galileo, while trying to balance between its two masters: God and money. As one small example, the Second Vatican Council – Vatican II – was the Roman Catholic Church’s attempt to evaluate its place in the modern world, but cynics will argue that a panicked Church was modernizing its practices – abandon the Latin mass, for instance – simply to restock a rapidly diminishing flock.
If a religious institution chooses to remain adamant in its posture against gay marriage, let it. And should it make that institution “irrelevant to the next generation of Americans,” let that be a problem for church elders and parishioners, not the government or litigious gay marriage activists. Ultimately, a religious institution’s relevance in a changing world is a free market problem, not a constitutional one.
Gay marriage supporters demanding equity for all and empathy from their opponents would do well to offer equal empathy to the deeply religious hoping to be left alone to worship as they believe. Likewise, the religious could be equally empathetic to those seeking gay marriage while casting out the intolerant extremists in their flock, leaving each side to its own peaceful lives.
Such assurances might go a long way towards easing friction more quickly between both sides, so that we might accept and respect each others’ differences, a notion not only embodied in the best teachings of Christ, but in the best ideals of America.