I stand in favor of same-sex marriage and equal rights for homosexuals, including adoption and reproduction. I have many gay friends and have attended all of their weddings. Those were some great parties! As a result I have historically been intolerant of religious conservatives who do not share my view. From my perspective as a non-believer, there was no consequence to them and their enmity just seemed mean spirited if not wholly bigoted. Furthermore, I was intolerant of the argument that this is a religious freedom issue. It made no logical or Constitutional sense that one person deserves the freedom to worship while another person is denied the freedom to marry (or buy a cake without prejudice).
But I have come to the realization that to some believers, there is a reasonable foothold for opposing same-sex marriage. They believe there is a consequence for their support and it is based in their respect for the laws of their church and more importantly in the penalties for breaking those laws. They believe acting to support that which their church opposes will cause them real harm. Of course from a secular perspective it is difficult to understand what that harm could be. Yet the church is clear: obey our laws or your internal well-being in danger: you will go to hell (no kidding).
Most of us went to church as children and were educated with two sets of laws. There is the law of the land – or the government – and there is the “law of God”. The law of the land promises penalties for violation, including fines and jail, but the “law of God” promises penalties in the form of the disapproval of our peers and punishment in the afterlife. To many people, these are just as powerful.
Ideally the law of the land and the law of the church would correspond perfectly, but on a few issues they do not. Some believers manage the conflict by cherry picking the church’s laws that work for them. But others do not believe they have the right to decide which of the Church’s laws can be ignored. A good number of religious Americans believe that you follow the rules of the church as dictated or there are severe penalties. We are not in a position to tell them that they are wrong, and I believe the Constitution supports that.
I continue to disagree with my religious friends who cannot support same-sex marriage, but I no longer question their motives. I accept that they have been educated by a wrathful teacher and have genuine fear of breaking their church’s laws. My hope is that their religious leaders come to a more rational, fair, and contemporary position. In the meantime, I think the religious right would be well-served to re-frame the discussion to underscore the penalties they genuinely fear rather than relying on a lopsided and prejudice-charged argument of religious freedom.