What’s the Worry About Religious Freedom?

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.




7 responses to “What’s the Worry About Religious Freedom?

  1. People having the same obligations leads to people having the same rights. You have an obligation not to assault people and you get the right not to be assaulted. You have the obligation to leave people alone and let them choose whatever spouse they want to marry and then you have the right to be left alone and choose whatever spouse you want to marry. You have the obligation to support your minor offspring and you had the right to be supported by your genetic parents when you yourself are a minor, You have the obligation to relinquish parental rights in a formal court approved adoption if someone else is going to raise your offspring and you have the right t a formal court approved adoption if your genetic parent is not going to raise you when you were a minor. You have the obligation to not interfere with other people and their freedom to worship as they wish and then you have the right to worship as you wish without interference from other people.

    And when someone fails to meet their obligations it means that someone, somewhere has their right to something violated and they then have a legal leg to stand on.

    All of the legal obligations to be met by opposite sex spouses could just as easily be met by spouses of the same sex. As far as presumption of paternity for a person’s spouse not being able to be met by a female spouse – its true it cannot be met by a female spouse, it just can’t. Better to throw the whole requirement out since the presumption when proven false cannot be overturned in favor of the person who actually does have paternity. Its not functioning to identify the father of children anymore anyway its just operating as an assignment to whoever the mother is married to and that is wrong straight gay or otherwise.

    • I know it has been a long time since you posted this, but on the off chance this is still a live conversation, your comment leaves me with a couple of questions. First, where do these rights come from? That’s important because it seems like we need to know how to generate the list so we know which things are on it. For instance, you’ve got the obligations to support your offspring and right to be supported. Where does that come from? It seems to me a person could argue that this is different from the right to be left alone (which is not being assaulted, say) and so you need some justification for why that gets to be on the list of rights. And that justification might then help us identify other things that are on that list.

      In general, this is important with rights. You (not you personally, but whoever is talking about rights) needs to articulate the method by which they generate their list of rights. So, for example, in a 1960s Supreme Court decision the Supreme Court said a married couple has the right to use birth control. Now I guarantee you that’s not in the constitution in so many words. So the question is where does that come from and, given where it comes from, what other similar rights are there?

      Second, what happens of my assertion of rights treads on your assertion of rights? And relatedly, are there any instances where the infringment of rights is justified. In general, the answer to this last question tends to be “yes.” Thus, in the name of the well-being and safety of children, a person’s acknowledged parental rights can be limited. We’re just careful to review how this is done to make sure that the rights are being well-respected. But rights generally are not absolute.

      This takes me back to the conflict of rights problem. if one has a right to religious freedom and one has a religious view that mandates discrimination of some sort, then one should be free to discriminate. But if I have a right to do the thing that person discriminates against, I might claim I have a right not to be discriminated against on the basis of my protected conduct. So you get conflicts–and we need a way to resolve those.

  2. “it was about religious freedom, which means it was fine to have the panel be all male.”
    you said that tongue in cheek i hope?

  3. I don’t like that some people phrase the issue as “religious freedom” when it seems to me that what many of them really mean is morality. Their version of morality.

    • Could it be that for many people morality is grounded in (or arises from) religion and thus, freedom of religion really does mean freedom to employ ones own sense of morality? Surely all the religions I know bring with them their own moral codes–though not everyone accepts all that is included in any religion. I sometimes wonder about where morality can come from if it doesn’t come from religion–I mean, are there non-religious foundations for morality?

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