Politics

What Now for Gay Marriage Supporters?

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I thought California’s Proposition 8 would fail and California would become the first state where the voters themselves actually voiced approval for gay marriage. Obviously, I was wrong.

Turns out the progressive coalition that swept Barack Obama into office is not so progressive, at least not on the issue that many on the left consider the seminal civil rights struggle of our time. So, what does this mean?

The easy answer is that we’re still a nation of bigots and over fifty percent of the electorate, even in liberal California, are intolerant fools. But considering that we just elected a black man president, the “intolerant” argument is, at best, imprecise. In fact, I think it misses the point entirely.

I don’t believe Prop. 8 passed because a majority of the people hate homosexuals or refuse to tolerate them. I think it passed because a significant number of the population didn’t “buy” that gay marriage is a civil rights issues.

The proposition had nothing to do with granting homosexuals voting rights, or allowing them to integrate the school system or even protecting them from workplace discrimination. The issue was the radical redefinition of marriage, of the state telling religious groups that their centuries old beliefs are invalid and that the state knows better than their God. To supporters of Prop 8, the issue wasn’t the civil rights of gays. It was the religious rights of those who do not want to be told how to practice their faith.

Personally, I support gay marriage quite fervently. But the Prop 8 passage has alerted me to the need to pay far more attention and give more respect to the opinions stated above. We cannot ramrod this measure through American society. If we want gay marriage to be accepted in our culture, we have to prove that the act would in no way infringe on religious liberty. Churches that do not recognize the holiness of gay marriage should in no way be obligated or coerced into performing or accepting such marriages — just as we would never expect a rabbi to marry Catholics or a priest to marry Muslims.

Gay marriage is a civil rights issue. But its implementation raises religious liberty issues. In a perfect world, we could completely separate the granting of the legal rights of partnership with the religious consecration of marriage. The state would issue “partnership” certificates. Religions would bestow marriage. But that’s a farfetched notion and not one we can reasonably pursue.

No, the solution we have now is the right one. But the approach is wrong. Gay marriage supporters should regroup, stop the cries of “intolerance!” and find a way to assuage the concerns of religious communities. Only then do I think we can avoid more disappointing results like the one experienced last Tuesday.