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Feb 26 2012

Reader Question: Same Sex Marriage

I received this email from a reader:

Here in Minnesota, people will be voting on an amendment to ban same-sex marriage in November. Considering the fact that most voters are religious, isn’t voting on how other people have sex, or who other people can marry, an instance of forcing people to obey religious tenets that they don’t believe in?

What are your thoughts on this?

If you want to pass on a winding trip through my brain, I highly recommend skipping the next two paragraphs and proceeding directly to the bolded question for my answer to the reader’s question.

This next paragraph is entitled “In which Brianne spends WAY TOO MUCH TIME on the interwebs getting hopelessly entangled in trying to track down data on religious affiliation by state, survey methodologies, criticisms of said methodologies, correlations between voting behavior and religious affiliation oh and also a side trip to an intro to philosophy website to refresh herself on the difference between inference and deduction.” It’s a long but accurate and comprehensive title. Also, this was a silly way to spend an hour of my Sunday afternoon.

Within the reader’s question is an underlying assumption that most voters are religious. This sounds right – most of the population identifies as religious, so most voters are probably religious. But does anyone know of direct data that speaks to this? Since we don’t ask voters to report their religious affiliation at the polling booth, I don’t know how we could have any. But, (stand back…I’m going to try logic!) We can deduce from the 2008 US Religious Landscape Survey conducted by the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life that a majority of Minnesotans are religious. However, I don’t think we can assume that that voters are equally represented by religious affiliation as detailed in this data at the polling place. BUT, this isn’t really the point of the reader’s question, which is:

Isn’t voting on how other people have sex or who other people can marry an instance of forcing people to obey religious tenets that they don’t believe in? 

If the argument is made that gay marriage violates some set of religious principles, and then by that argument we deny homosexuals the right to enter into a state-issued marriage contract, now we have forced the state to take an action that is influenced by religion. And by handing the vote to the people of Minnesota, we are allowing popular opinion – which can be based on any damn thing, including religious conviction – to potentially decide to deny equal rights and protections to a portion of the population, without holding the voters accountable for the reason(s) that we are doing so.

I (duh) oppose religion influencing government. As a bit of an aside, I wrote more about why I don’t want to vote on gay marriage in November here.

10 comments

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  1. 1
    Ellie

    There is also an assumption that religious people are against gay marriage. And if most people are religious and more than half believe in gay marriage, I don’t know that you can make this assumption either.

    1. 1.1
      Brianne Bilyeu

      Good catch. Yes, not all those who are religious are going to vote for the amendment, and not all those who will vote for the amendment will be religious.

  2. 2
    Paul

    Isn’t voting on how other people have sex or who other people can marry an instance of forcing people to obey religious tenets that they don’t believe in? 
    Amen!

  3. 3
    The Lorax

    One could claim that it is an instance of forcing religious tenants on a population subset, but whilst it is most commonly associated with such, the fact of the matter is that religion is ingrained in our society and culture, due to its long, long history. So, many people in society think of homosexual marriage as “icky” simply because of the religious residue that they have experienced.

    One could also make the case that it is simply outside the norm, and that it really does have no ties with religion at all.

    In any case, a very, very, VERY general perspective would be simply that “it’s different”, and humans tend to reject change (moreso, though not necessarily, if their dogma demands it). But, social pressures, if maintained, become social norms. Eventually, young people the world over will read in their history books about all the fuss that homosexual marriage caused, and think that we were all terribly uncivilized for even considering that it shouldn’t be allowed. And us, as the ancient generation whiling away our final hours in nursing homes, will nod sagely at the new troubles facing society, knowing that, eventually, even those things will pass.

    I have no idea where we will end up, but I think it’s plain to see that homosexual marriage is a forward, and thus inevitable, step.

  4. 4
    Angra Mainyu

    Given that religious beliefs influence people’s moral beliefs – to some extent, at least -, it’s only to be expected that religion will have, through vote, some influence in public policy.

    That is not limited to the same-gender marriage issue, but is even present in elections for President, Governor, etc. – it’s clear that a non-negligible number of voters’ choice of candidates is at least partially influenced by moral beliefs which in turn are informed by their religious beliefs.

    For instance, in order to vote against allowing abortions in the US, some people may vote for a Presidential candidate who is likely to pick conservative Justices for the Supreme Court, in case of vacancy, and for Senate candidates who will back those choices.

    I don’t see any practicable way around that in the foreseeable future (deconverting everyone would take too long).

    Religion aside, one way or another it seems to me that people can vote on issues of fundamental rights, in democratic countries. Even the US Constitution (or that of other democratic countries) can be changed by a group with sufficiently large majority support (via voting until they get the required special majorities, in the case of the US), and the Constitution itself was the product of the choice of a group of people with their own moral beliefs. Of course, non-democracies aren’t better at all: there’s always a group of people making laws based on their own moral beliefs.

    So, I do not see any practicable way around that, either.

    That aside, In the specific case of same-gender marriage, a case can be made that a ban is unconstitutional, but I don’t know whether that would be successful (I’m not an expert on the subject, but I think it might depend on the specific ban; something like that seems to have worked in California so far).

  5. 5
    Joker

    Why do people not realize that as soon as they taint the gay marriage argument with religious ideology they have lost the argument. If the constitution protects the individual’s right to believe and practice their faith as they please, then any religion that recognizes gay marriage should be able to perform them. Any fight against gay marriage that includes religious undertones makes it unconstitutional to ban gay marriage.

  6. 6
    Robin Raianiemi

    Hey, I was the person who sent this e-mail.

    I think it’s a perfectly valid assumption that most religious people in the US, and here in Minnesota, are religiously motivated against same-sex marriage. Every time this anti-same-sex Constitutional amendment has been voted on, it’s passed into law. Every time. I fully expect Minnesota will enact this hateful, mean-spirited amendment; even people who will tell their friends and neighbors that they’ll vote against it, will, in the privacy of the voting booth, vote with their bigotry.

    I have yet to encounter as single argument against same-sex marriage which wasn’t, at it’s core, a religious one.

    Yes, some religious people will vote against this, and some atheists will vote for it. But, percentage-wise, a greater number of the religious will vote for it over the number of atheists who will. I think it takes willful blindness to see it any other way.

    1. 6.1
      Dogma is Awesome

      Hmmm, I’ve been thinking about this specific topic since a friend of mine recently made a comment about wanting to know what the reasoned arguments against gay marriage would be. I’ve been trying to come up with devil’s advocate arguments myself and this is what I have thus far:

      1. Arguments from religion (god says gay is bad). As y’all have pointed out, this one is probably the most common argument against gay marriage but I think it’s also the least effective from a legal point of view. I’m no attorney but I think the law would protect a church’s right to recognize/condemn whatever they want; the state is another matter. Well, most of the time anyway.

      2. Argument from “nature”- I couldn’t think of a better name, but I suppose one could argue that gay couples are somehow “unnatural” given that two humans of the same sex can’t reproduce (ergo gay marriage shouldn’t be endorsed by the state). Spectactularly weak, I know, but technically at least the premise is correct (specifically the part about not reproducing, NOT the part about being “unnatural”). The problem is that following this to its logical conclusion means that we would need to ban infertile couples from marrying. Oops.

      3. Argument from fear: gay marriage weakens my marriage and/or our society. I’ve never really understood this one, unless the person saying it lives in a marriage which is somehow glued together by bigotry. When I think about this, though, I can’t help but think that this is yet another argument from religion. If anyone out there is sitting on solid evidence that state-sanctioned marriage equality is going to destroy all of us, please let me know. Until then I’m content with taking the “risk” associated with treating other people equally.

      Aaaaaaand….that’s it. “my god says so”, “it’s weird”, and “I’m scared” are all I’ve got. Just in case there’s any doubt I think these are all shitty reasons for being mean to someone else.

      Am I missing anything?

      1. Goomba

        You forgot the “Tradition” argument. They think that because we’ve only had heterosexual marriage for so long that makes it a part of the American culture and we don’t need to change that. Of course that argument looses steam when you mention that we had slavery in this country for 400 years. 400 years is long enough to be a tradition right?

        1. Dogma is Awesome

          Good point Rando. Traditional family values indeed…

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