Our culture is moving forward very rapidly in some areas; zip, zip, zip, and especially in the new Supreme ruling on gay marriage. And in many ways most of us feel that it is about time. I think many of us became convinced when someone we knew who was LGBT? had to be treated in a hospital and their partner, no matter how long they had been together, could never have the solace of being considered a family member.
Many same sex couples wanted to raise a child, having worked hard and built a good life and a stable home, and yet the child could not be adopted by both partners regardless of how long they had loved each other. Situations like this also forced us to sympathize with colleagues or friends. If a couple was paired female-female, one or both of the pair could be artificially (or naturally) inseminated. But could the child ever really belong to both parties in the eyes of the law? I think that has been problematic. For couples paired male-male a surrogate probably had to be involved if they decided not to adopt or if the option was not available where they lived. And once again I am guessing there was no legal right to shared parenthood.
So what may seem like it happened zip, zip, zip to some Americans probably feels like it took forever to others. That Supreme Court decision to uphold marriage for all American couples regardless of gender (and also race just in case it ever came up again) took a certain segment of America by surprise, although it is sort of nice to think for once that “love wins”, as the current meme goes.
So, my questions are many. What do we do when granting the rights of one group of Americans seems to curtail the rights of another group, no matter how intolerant and unenlightened that second group appears?
If we separate government and religion, but live in a government that believes people are free to pursue the religion of their choice, does that mean that equal rights to your own religion suddenly do not count because of the court’s decision? How can we tell if someone’s objections truly are religious in nature, or if religion is just being used as an excuse to deny someone else a right because their expression of that right makes you feel uncomfortable? How would a system of exceptions work? Is there a chance that gay couples might be willing to steer clear of enlisting the services of someone with a genuine religious issue to wrestle with?
Obviously public servants should not be able to opt out, but what if every private business in a given state wanted to opt out? That would look an awful lot like that state’s refusal to obey the law of the land. In the case of Roe v Wade, we already know states that try to get away with taking away a legal freedom from everyone in that state simply because they say it is against their religious views. And in the case of abortion we are not forcing anyone to anything but mind their own business. How would this not be the same?
When it came to a celebration like a wedding I would want to hire someone who was enthusiastic about making my day wonderful. I would feel terrible asking someone to perform services they did not want to perform. But, again, suppose you encountered someone who did want to opt out? Will exceptions take the teeth out of the law? Would a business just put a cross (or other religious emblem) in the window so people would never be embarrassed? Would they have to go before some kind of board to get an exemption?
Equality and freedom are great concepts in the abstract, but they are hardly ever absolute in reality. One person’s absolute freedom can often run afoul of another’s. How do we offer the maximum amount of freedom to each party while granting an equal amount to both? We would need a full-time referee. Obviously that is where the courts come in, but we will have some very busy courts and people will have to wait a long time for decisions.
It seems to me that this is a thorny issue that we need some guidance on from our philosophers. I have no problem fighting against the establishment of a theocracy in America, but individual rights are a different matter and are protected by our Constitution. Fundamentalist Christians are unhappy and likely to make the rest of Americans quite unhappy unless we can strike a balance somehow.
Perhaps we have made such a giant cultural leap that some have genuinely not caught up, or maybe there are some who are quite disingenuous and are just using religion as an excuse to prevent changes they don’t personally like. I don’t know how to solve this argument over conflicting freedoms, but I hope everyone will give it some thought and discuss it with respect until we can reach some form of agreement that allows all groups to feel somewhat like they won, or that creates two camps where almost no one feels like a loser. Am I nuts? Well, perhaps that is another question for another time.
This is the view from the cheap seats.
By Nancy Brisson