[politics] More on religious objection to gay marriage

In comments here, bestows the Clue Fairy on me, and takes me to task for being an antireligious hater. I am respectfully disagreeing, at length.

I fail to see how someone objecting to homosexuality due to their religious beliefs to be considered “unprincipled”.

I think we are significantly misunderstanding each other, partly through my abbreviated choice of words. Let me try again.

First of all, I’m not a “hater”. My belief in others’ freedom of religion is as absolute as my belief in others’ freedom of speech. As a staunch atheist, I could hardly think otherwise. To force people to deconvert is just as repugnant as to force them to convert, perhaps more so.

That being said, those very same freedoms guarantee that I am not required to agree with or obey your speech. Neither am I required to agree with or obey your religion.

As for religious commandments themselves, by definition, they are an Argument From Authority. This is certainly true in the Abrahamic religions, and so far as I know, it’s true in most or all other world religions. The Argument From Authority is a logical fallacy in and of itself. Furthermore, religious commandments only apply within the framework of their religion. Just because they believe it, doesn’t mean it’s true.

This is not to say that many religious commandments don’t have equivalent social principles. Exodus 20:13, “Thou shalt not kill”, has a pretty broad application in any functional society. (As an aside, note the nuance that the original text, such as we understand it, could more accurately be translated as “Thou shalt not commit premediated murder”, but the idea holds either way.)

On the other hand, many more religious commandments don’t hold any water as social principles. Leviticus 11:12 states “Whatsoever hath no fins nor scales in the waters, that shall be an abomination unto you.” (Likewise Deuteronomy 14:10.) Not eating shrimp doesn’t have any application in a functional society, at least not one with decent refrigeration.

In other words, you can’t base principled social policy on religious commandments. As a society, we don’t even base religious policy on religious commandments. Otherwise all Jews and Christians would look and act like Orthodox Jews. Religious principles are selective, and in my opinion, quite necessarily so in order to ensure the long term survival of the religion over generations.

That is decidedly not the same thing as saying that persons of faith are not principled. Neither is it suggesting they shouldn’t be permitted, or even encouraged, to state their beliefs, as you suggest I’m intending, further down in your comment.

The point I was trying to make is that we can’t frame a social policy based on religious principles. Otherwise we’d all be subject to either majoritarianism, or the principle of maximum of offense. The evils of either of those options should be obvious.

Social policy gets framed based on cost-benefit analysis, moral considerations, and the social context. Our American political equivalent of religious commandments is the Constitution, and the body of legislation and case law which descends from it. Yes, those are Authority, but they’re consensual authority established by our society, and malleable as our society changes.

A lot the people of my personal acquaintance who are against the practice of homosexuality (and therefore are standing against gay marriage) have reasons other than “God commanded it so.” I know because I’ve asked them.

What are those reasons? As I said in my original post, I’ve seen no arguments that don’t boil down to either antigay bigotry or religious commandment. What have you heard otherwise?

Would you respect them any more if they failed to stand firm by their principles? Probably not.

Not in the slightest. But neither do I think religious principles per se are a basis for framing social policy. If they were, we’d be a theocracy, and we all know how well that turns out.

When it comes to this whole gay marriage thing, I get much bemusement out of human behaviour. Those who openly support it are getting very hateful and malicious in their attitudes towards those on the fence, even when they are not normally hateful and malicious people. That’s probably the last sort of attitude one should adopt.

You’re implying it’s hateful and malicious of me to stand against those who oppose secularism, equality under the law, and individual rights. I am almost certain I misunderstand you here, but let’s be clear. I am quite capable of being deeply snarky about damned near anything (including myself), but I don’t think I’ve ever been hateful and malicious about opposition to gay marriage. I simply think that such opposition is profoundly wrong headed and not grounded on the social and moral principles of our society. It is certainly in many cases grounded in the social and moral principles of individual religious belief, but those are not equivalent and do not apply within the framework of American constitutional democracy.

Don’t be one of the haters.

Thankfully, I’m not.

7 thoughts on “[politics] More on religious objection to gay marriage

  1. Gus Gallows says:

    I would like to comment as a Christian and say only this:

    “Thou shalt not judge”. This is a message that many Christians seem to overlook. It is not our place to judge anyone. It is very clear in the bible that this is a No-No. We are to build our own relationship with God, raise our families in conjunction with our belief’s to the best of our abilities, and hold ourselves accountable. Anyone outside of that is completely beyond our scope. We should accept them as having made their own decisions in life and let them be. Let the laws of the land rule the masses, let our own religious belief’s rule the individual. Simple. If the world’s religions and non-religions could come to that simple aggreement, imagine what a world this could be to live in.

    Ok, off my soapbox.

  2. Matt H says:

    Wrote a blog on this topic a while back. In summary, “…my position is that “gay marriage” is a contradiction in terms. Marriage is a religious institution as defined by the various religions. The concept of a government recognizing a marriage is a holdover from the days when the vast majority of citizens in the U.S. held similar beliefs about marriage and there was no issue. These circumstances have changed, and I see the concept of governments recognizing marriages as a separation of church and state issue. Marriage should be in the realm of religions. Governments should recognize civil unions only, for taxation and legal purposes. Marriages can be a form of civil union, but not all civil unions must be marriages. So long as the government is involved in religiously charged issues this will only get worse…”

    1. Cora says:

      I agree with you that it’s not a government’s business how its citizens organize their personal lives. I have issues with marriage in general, because the institution of (straight) marriage has been used as a system to oppress women for millennia. And most of the legal mechanisms oppressing married women were removed less than forty years ago, sometimes less (in my country, marital rape only became a crime in 2004). So personally, I would prefer a system which would allow a person to confer the useful benefits of marriage (Green cards or equivalent documents for partners of natural citizens, visitation and medical decision making rights, adoption rights, the right not to bear witness against one’s partner, etc…) to a person/persons of one’s choosing without having to go through a quasi-religious ceremony. Meanwhile, those who wish to have the ceremony are free to do so, but should not get privileged legal treatment because of it.

      However, there is not a chance in hell that my or any other government will cease to recognize marriage as a civil institution. Hence, extending marriage as a civil institution to gay couples is the second best solution. And indeed, legal recognition of same-sex partnerships (called not marriage to pacify a handful of fundies, some of whom unfortunately have political power) has been available in my country for a couple of years now, supported by the majority of the population.

  3. Jaws says:

    One problem that I’ve noticed with theocracy worldwide is an inability to distinguish between “tolerate views of a different religious/nonreligious origin” and “agree with views of a different religious/nonreligious origin.” In this respect, I suppose that I — unlike Jay — qualify as a “hater” of some kind: I won’t tolerate this kind of intolerance. That way lies Belfast; and Jerusalem; and Mumbai; and, for that matter, Soweto.

    And, as I read hkneale’s comments, that’s exactly the problem he has: That Jay’s views do not privilege the intrusion of a particular set of religious views into secular governance. The question that I always ask that at least derails the argument is this: Are you willing to enshrine Leviticus in secular law? (It never stops the argument, and occasionally someone says “Absolutely! I’m an ultraorthodox Jew!”, but it at least exposes the argument as being one about not tolerance, but imposed orthodoxy.)

  4. steve says:

    In all that I have heard seen or read none have given a single legal reason to not allow same sex marriage. There is not a single law that requires that a person be of a religion or a part of any religion or of any religious belief of any kind before being allowed to marry (usa laws all state laws). There is not a single law that requires a person to marry in a church, There is no law requiring or forbidding a person from divorcing because of religion (that is a personal choice)

    There is no law requiring a person be of the same religion before marrying.
    To do so (requiring a religion) would be a direct violation of the consitutional intent of seperation of church and state.
    It is fine if a person believes in a God, to some it is a faith or a hope and in some ways it may comfort them.
    It is fine if a person does not believe in a God.
    When a belief is used in ways to hide a bigotry or to excuse an intolerence it is no longer a faith.
    Marriage is not and never has been a holy union it is a loving union. Calling it a holy union is the culture of those whom call it so, if in calling it that it unites two in a spirital way then it is their personal union.
    It has never been a requirement. People unite themselves in spirital ways that have nothing to do with any god belief or lack of a God belief.
    There is no legal agrument that would justify a discrimination nor is there a legal agrument that can be made to justify a bigotry.
    Religion is not the problem, religion is the weapon of choice used by the only real enemy that has existed for too long.
    That enemy has been responsible for more hate,child abuse,family distruction,torture and rape then any to of ever existed.
    Its name is bigotry.

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