In following recent gay marriage debates in the U.S., I’ve noticed that a lot of the arguments against legalizing gay marriage are religious. They may or may not be explicitly framed that way – some people quote the Bible in their arguments, while others refer to “traditional marriage,” an implicitly Christian construct – but the religious content remains.
My issue with taking a religious stand against gay marriage here in the U.S. is that our government is explicitly founded upon the separation of church and state. In my understanding, the application of this delineation is largely carried out through civil rights. So while one religion may discourage its members from same-sex marriage, that shouldn’t affect believers of another religion (or none at all) from being able to pursue same-sex marriage.
The question I arrived at – and which inspired this post – is: does banning same-sex marriage on religious grounds inhibit the freedom of religion of members of other faiths to pursue or condone same-sex marriages? I think it might. But first we need to ask: do other religions accept and even encourage same-sex unions? The answer is yes, but it gets a little tricky.
This list from the Pew Research Project shows the opinions of many major religions and sects in America on same-sex marriage. Religions that tolerate same-sex marriage or civil unions (at least in some cases) include the United Methodist Church, the Unitarian Universalist Association of Congregations, and some branches of Judaism. This Huffington Post blog also points out a number of Christian denominations and non-Christian groups that have started performing same-sex marriages or blessing same-sex civil unions.
Still, the majority of the debate seems to be framed in Christian terms, as Michael Bronski, Ann Pellegrini, and Michael Amico point out here, stating for instance: “in the United States, due to the historical importance of Christian thinking, there is a strong tendency to conflate religion and values. Many Americans believe that the only way to have values and be moral is to be religious, and then, only in a Christian way.” A great example of this is how many people have come to accept that sex is only appropriate within the confines of marriage – and since I believe that sex is a universal human right, denying a group access to marriage is essentially denying them access to sex.
Some non-Abrahamic religions condone same-sex marriage/unions, but as not all of these religions are monotheistic, citing them may not convince a person who is a believer in an Abrahamic religion. Examples include paganism/neo-paganism and indigenous religions such as the Native American belief systems (which are incredibly diverse and varied among tribes) that labeled people with same-sex desires and transgender roles two-spirited, and in many cases revered them.
This is why, overall, I think it’s a limitation of religious freedoms to deny same-sex marriage (or even the blessing of legally-recognized civil unions) to people in the U.S. There is widespread religious diversity within the U.S., and framing a debate solely in Judeo-Christian terms is thus wrong-headed. If someone else is entering a same-sex union that is against your religious beliefs, does it actually cause you bodily harm? Due to what I’ve labeled the adjacency effect, someone might perceive same-same marriage as causing harm, but that’s ontological violence, not actual physical violence. For our public policy-makers not to recognize the ways in which religions of the book have dominated the discussion of same-sex marriage shows ignorance, in my opinion, and I hope that changes.
Basically, if your religious belief – or lack thereof – dictates that you should or should not get married in a certain way, I support your right to follow through on that belief. This applies whether you are an atheist or a pagan in a Christian-dominated country or a Christian in a Muslim-dominated country. We should reflect very carefully on whether our laws reflect an implicitly religious viewpoint when the U.S. is (purportedly) a secular nation.