Question: Same-Sex Marriage and Abortion. What do these two topics have in common?
Answer: Whenever these topics are mentioned in certain religious quarters both trigger hypertension and spirited (no pun intended) debate.
Think about it for a moment. Does the reader know anyone with strong opinions about one who is indifferent to the other? Although they are miles apart from a practical point of view, these two subjects spark heated discussions among politically conservative Christians. Speaking practically, same-sex marriages may run into problems, but abortion is not likely to be on the list. In fact, the abortion issue is so far removed from the other issue that no one I know has considered any connection, other than "attacks of the Enemy" to destroy our country. What, then, might calm heated arguments at the national level and soothe the fears of Christians disturbed that both issues present a creeping menace, if not a conspiracy, to attack and destroy the faith?
Dale Carpenter at VC points to a Times editorial by David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch, A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage, which links both subjects by using a very Christian principle, reconciliation. Reconciliation, as every schoolboy knows, recognizes that both sides of any dispute are not just fussing for the sake of fussing. At bottom, especially in matters of faith, both sides have irreconcilable differences that are by definition insoluble. In order to be reconciled, each side must cede a little to the other in hopes that with the passing of time they can move on with life and leave at least one wound to heal.
Christians have recognized from ancient times the most common of all reconciliations, divorce. It's misleading to call divorce a form of reconciliation since by definition "irreconcilable differences" is its very foundation. But that has not discouraged Christians from recognizing divorce whenever it occurs in their midst. A case can be made that recent years have seen an increase in divorces, a veritable fashion statement, as men at a certain mid-life stage are driven to find a new trophy wife, in many cases starting second families.
But I digress. This post is not about divorce, but abortion and same-sex marriage. It's easier to throw stones at someone else's glass house as long as our glass house is a different color. Consider this:
In politics, as in marriage, moments come along when sensitive compromise can avert a major conflict down the road. The two of us believe that the issue of same-sex marriage has reached such a point now.
We take very different positions on gay marriage. We have had heated debates on the subject. Nonetheless, we agree that the time is ripe for a deal that could give each side what it most needs in the short run, while moving the debate onto a healthier, calmer track in the years ahead.
It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.
For those not immersed in the issue, our proposal may seem puzzling. For those deeply immersed, it may seem suspect. So allow us a few words by way of explanation.
What follows is a patient, easy to grasp outline of a very sensible proposal to federalize the question of same-sex marriage in the same way that the abortion question will very likely be federalized by the Freedom of Choice Act (FOCA) when it again comes up for vote. (This time I expect it to pass, incidentally. After thirty-six years the political will seems to be there. Only by federalizing the question will the tired old debate over Roe vs. Wade be put to bed in the same way that Brown put Plessy to bed. This time the Executive and Legislative branches will make the move rather than shoving the responsibility on the Judicial branch to do the tough work.) Blankenhorn and Rauch end their column with a reference to abortion that inspired this post.
Linking federal civil unions to guarantees of religious freedom seems a natural way to give the two sides something they would greatly value while heading off a long-term, take-no-prisoners conflict. That should appeal to cooler heads on both sides, and it also ought to appeal to President Obama, who opposes same-sex marriage but has endorsed federal civil unions. A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.
In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief.
But clinging to extremes can also be quite dangerous. In the case of gay marriage, a scorched-earth debate, pitting what some regard as nonnegotiable religious freedom against what others regard as a nonnegotiable human right, would do great harm to our civil society. When a reasonable accommodation on a tough issue seems possible, both sides should have the courage to explore it.
To underscore my point: If Christians can come to terms with divorce in their intimate midst, even to the point of looking the other way when many of their brothers and sisters engage in serial monogamy, I see no reason there should be any loud objections to federal moves to address these two vexing social problems, especially when language is specifically in place allowing exceptions for "religious objections." For those who are skimming instead of reading, here it a salient point you may have missed:
A successful template already exists: laws that protect religious conscience in matters pertaining to abortion. These statutes allow Catholic hospitals to refuse to provide abortions, for example. If religious exemptions can be made to work for as vexed a moral issue as abortion, same-sex marriage should be manageable, once reasonable people of good will put their heads together.
In the interest of full disclosure I should mention that as a conscientious objector during the Vietnam Era my tour of duty in the Army Medical Service Corps was the consequence of my decision to be drafted as a non-combatant in uniform. I am personally familiar with what it means to be a Christian standing for a deeply held principle when all around me seem to be in disagreement. For me that is not a sign of cowardice or compromise. My decision was and is, if anything, my small way of keeping an important core value of faith alive until a time which for which I hope, long after I am dead, when "no sword is drawn but the sword of righteousness, no strength known but the strength of love" and "all peoples may be gathered under the banner of the Prince of Peace, as children of one Father..." [BCP p.815]