In last week’s issue of The Triangle, Aaron Strauss wrote a piece in response to the biweekly Queerview column. In this column, he addressed the Catholic Church’s opinion and teaching in regard to the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender community. Strauss, as a Catholic, follows those teachings but also agreed with Queerview author Vaughn Shirey that there needs to be greater dialogue between members on both sides of the issue.
Firstly, I have great respect for people who are religious. I fully believe in the constitutional right to practice whatever religion one chooses and to be free from persecution while doing so. However, I equally believe that religions should have no influence on public policy, using the same First Amendment justification. Congress may not “make … law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” This has, in over 200 years of United States history, come to be understood to provide a separation of church and state, which the U.S. Supreme Court has also upheld in its jurisprudence. Strauss follows Catholic teaching and says that his faith “would require [him] to vote against [LGBT rights].” While this is not direct interference by a religious organization in public policy, it certainly shows a certain blind deference to faith. I’m not suggesting that we can stop people from voting based on their religious beliefs, nor do I think we should. However, the influence of religious organizations, such as the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, must be scrutinized. These organizations are tax exempt, but that is dependent upon them refraining from political discourse. We should be taking a better look at these organizations when the speech of their leaders seems to be political or politically related in some way, and if they are found to be violating Internal Revenue Service rules, they should have their tax-exempt status revoked.
The other problem with using religious reasoning on civil issues, such as gay marriage or an LGBT-inclusive Employment Non-Discrimination Act, is that these are civil issues, not religious ones, as obvious as that sounds. Catholicism teaches that marriage is a divine institution created by God. That’s absolutely fine; it’s a religious belief, and I have no problem with the church teaching that. What I do have a problem with is when religious people make the argument that because the church has this religious belief, we, as a country and society, must make laws following that teaching. Marriage has become a civil institution. It is an important part of many religions, but it is also part of our civil society. There are over 1,000 benefits provided to married straight couples on a federal level that are denied to same-sex couples, even if those couples are legally married in a state. For the church to claim that same-sex marriage is a threat to the institution of marriage, or that marriage is inherently religious and not a civil issue, is ludicrous. There are people who made similar arguments against interracial marriage in the 1960s, and yet today, decades later, marriage is still an integral part of our society. Prohibiting same-sex marriage is a violation of the Equal Protection Clause of the Constitution, as it discriminates against a particular group based on their immutable characteristics. In the oral arguments for Hollingsworth v. Perry, a Supreme Court case addressing the issue of Proposition 8 in California, Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked the lawyer arguing for those opposed to same-sex marriage whether he could think of “any other rational basis, reason, for a state using sexual orientation as a factor in denying homosexuals benefits or imposing burdens on them” outside of the context of marriage. The lawyer was unable to provide a rational basis for such discrimination. Why should the LGBT community be discriminated against in marriage if there are no other contexts in which it would be admissible? Additionally, why should we use the Catholic Church’s position on marriage specifically? There are many other religions, including both supporters and opponents of same-sex marriage. To use the views of one religion on a civil issue is to foist them unwillingly upon everyone who is not a member of that religion, thereby violating the First Amendment.
I’m all for religious understanding and having a dialogue about the issue. As Strauss said in his article, a dialogue works toward the common good. However, it’s fairly black and white that on this issue, the common good is equality for all Americans. Just as discrimination based on race, gender or religion is unconstitutional, so is discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. And just as it took decades for those forms of discrimination to be recognized, so it is taking time with LGBT rights. Now, though, is the time for it to happen. Public opinion is swaying, with several national polls showing that a majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. In less than two weeks, three more states legalized gay marriage, bringing the total to 12 states and the District of Columbia. So yes, let’s debate, let’s dialogue, let’s reach the common good. But recognize that opposing rights for all citizens puts you on the wrong side of history, and please, don’t try and force me to follow your religion.
Sean Craig is a co-chief copy editor at The Triangle. He can be contacted at [email protected]