The debate over the legality of gay marriage is an excellent place to explore how the traditional relationship between political parties and various demographic voting blocs muddies the waters when evaluating appropriate public policy.
Theodore Olson is a lawyer. He has long been a friend of Republicans. He defended President Bush’s counterterrorism policies after 9/11 and he argued the election case before the Supreme Court that put George Bush in the White House in 2000. Yet today, he is preparing to argue on behalf of gay marriage in California and against the Constitutional amendment California voters passed banning same sex marriage.
Why are conservatives so up in arms? Because conservatism is so closely associated with traditional Judeo-Christian values in general, and more specifically today’s conservative movement seems inexorably tied to the religious right.
As both a traditional conservative and a Christian, I often find interesting dichotomies in my own viewpoints. What I sometimes would like to see happen as a Christian, I can’t support as public policy because I understand and value the provisions captured within our founding documents. Yet, I also find that the courts often place so much emphasis on “making no law respecting the establishment of religion” that the result “prohibits the free exercise thereof,” a fact that enrages my sensibilities.
I find similar tension in my thoughts on the issue of gay marriage (and I’ll ignore the second order effect of child-rearing for the time being). As a Christian, I do not favor gay marriage. I find the biblical position against homosexuality clear and unambiguous, as I do the Judeo-Christian understanding of a marriage being between one man and one woman. However, if I am honestly trying to live out a new-testament lifestyle consistent with Jesus’ words as recorded in Mathew 5-7, I discover that I am compelled to a pursue a position of grace and compassion towards those who don’t value biblical mandates even if I disagree—nay, particularly if I disagree—with the attendant behaviors.
As an American, though, setting aside my Christian beliefs, I (a) don’t expect that non-Christians would universally accept the foundation of a biblical argument on the subject; (b) believe the federal government should trespass into the lives of citizens as infrequently as possible; and (c) believe all citizens have the right to Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness–which may well be the most basic synopsis of The American Dream—and that the role of government is to secure those rights for its citizens.
I have frequently bemoaned the lack of creativity within the Republican Party and taken it to task for its more PRE-servative positions, as opposed to authentically CON-servative positions. So it is not without precedent that I ponder the issue at hand with an eye towards reconciliation between what might otherwise be considered antithetical positions.
Allow me to explore the following thought: what if all couples wishing to be joined in a manner that afforded rights of legal partnerships had to be accomplished through a civil union? That is, what if the term “marriage” lost its legal meaning, while retaining (and, in fact, advancing) its original meaning as a joining by God of one man to one woman? A civil union, then, limited to no more than two people and restricting individuals from being involved in more than one at any given time would afford all the legal rights we currently find attached to the traditional definition of marriage. They would be enacted by the same civil officials currently permitted to administer their creation.
As such, the law would require that couples be not “married,” the very concept of which finds its basis in the biblical texts and thus comes burdened with biblical definitions and practices, but rather legally united. Many Americans– though certainly not a majority– don’t subscribe to biblical definitions and practices, so why should they be held to them, unless they had been outlined in our founding documents (they were not). In fact, it might be argued (though I hope it never is) that the legal requirement for “marriage” to create tax favored partnerships constitutes an unconstitutional law respecting the establishment of religion.
Couples for whom “marriage” is important could still seek to be “married” in the traditional sense. In fact, church weddings, performed by church officiants would constitute the simultaneous creation of the legally required civil union, while also establishing the Godly bond created by the church ceremony.
In this idea, all couples are required to create the same legal partnership regardless of religion or sexual orientation. Couples for whom religious issues are of great importance (the majority of Americans, in fact) still have a vehicle to create those partnerships and are not additionally burdened in any way given that churches would be authorized to simultaneously create the civil unions in question. This ought to satisfy the “nor prohibit the free exercise thereof” crowd (that would be me).
Likewise, those in favor of permitting the same legal status to same sex couples would find the law to be blind to the gender composition of these partnerships.
As an American and a Christian I find no fault with this proposition. I can’t see that it diminishes the value of marriage, in fact it reinforces it for what it is and recognizes and respects its heritage. Additionally, it provides an agnostic means of administering the tax-favored partnerships to which many same sex couples want access.
My father used to say, “Drex, this is America. You have every right to be wrong.” Indeed. Conserving the right of ALL Americans to pursue happiness is one I cherish, even if I disagree with the means of their pursuit.
Those who find fault herein might ask themselves if Constitutional amendments, like California’s, aren’t just another big-government solution to an individual problem—ineffective evangelism. As an American, I would just assume that governments not attempt to do for me that which I ought to be doing on my own.