Suddenly these days concerns about religious freedom have become front page news. (For instance, yesterday there was a hearing in Congress that I thought w as about contraception but it turns out that wasn’t the topic at all–it was about religious freedom, which means it was fine to have the panel be all male.) And as I wrote a few days back, religious freedom seems to be emerging as the main point made in opposition to access to marriage for same-sex couples.
Sometimes I wonder about why some religious people are so incredibly anxious about same-sex couples marrying. Frankly, it seems to me quite a conservative trend. It’s almost the opposite of what was once called “gay liberation.” It’s about lesbian and gay couples settling down, becoming stable and sober members of society, buying houses and enrolling kids in girl scouts. and so on. (Probably not so much boy scouts, but I digress.) And as some of you have commented here and as many other people have commented elsewhere, supporting someone else’s right to marry hardly diminishes the importance of your own marriage. It just isn’t a zero-sum game.
But when I think about history I wonder if I can in fact guess the source of anxiety. Remember that once a number of religions insisted that allowing interracial couples to marry violated their faith? The right to enter into an interracial marriage was upheld anyway. And now, less than fifty years later, there is reasonably wide acceptance of interracial marriage. At the same time, religious opposition to interracial marriage was largely withered away. (I’m sure I can find a religion that still opposes it, but I’m guessing we could agree it was somewhere on the fringes of society rather than in the mainstream.)
So what happened? I think that as the law changed and as social attitudes changed it became more and more difficult for religions to credibly insist that interracial marriages violated their creed. I suspect if you did the research that you’d find that some religions actually changed their position on the issue. Certainly many religious individuals did so. And this means that those who continue in their opposition are more isolated and look less mainstream.
So I wonder if this same concern spurs the current religious anxiety around marriage access. Perhaps there are people who 1) cannot imagine that they will ever change their views and 2) fear becoming the fringe, as those who still oppose interracial marriage have become the fringe. This seems quite plausible to me, as you can see that more and more people–including religious people–are changing their views about access to marriage for same-sex couples. As with interracial marriage, the reality is not nearly so scary as the idea once seemed to be.