The have it one way god

If you have a goddy hatred of the whole idea of same-sex marriage and you’re seeing hurdle after hurdle fall in defiance of your goddy hatred, what do you do? You go on goddily hating it, of course, but also you make a big fuss about “religious freedom” for people whose jobs entail some kind of involvement with marriage. Hollis Phelps at RD gives an example:

The strategy has fallen instead to “protecting” those whose religious opposition to same-sex marriage may conflict with the law.

That includes public employees whose regular duties include issuing marriage licenses and officiating marriages, such county registers of deeds, magistrates, and their employees. As The Charlotte Observer reported, the conservative North Carolina Values Coalition, for instance, sent an email the weekend before last to the state’s registers of deeds, stating that they can refuse to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples based on their “First Amendment right not to violate their religious beliefs.” Tami Fitzgerald, director of the North Carolina Values Coalition, likewise told the Raleigh-based CBS affiliate WRAL, “You shouldn’t have to sacrifice your religious beliefs just to keep your job. That’s just wrong, and it violates our first freedom—the right to freely exercise your religious beliefs.”

Nope. That’s not an infinitely generalizable claim. Your religious beliefs could require you to sacrifice your first-born, but murdering your child would be murder and subject to prosecution. Your religious beliefs could require you to exclude non-white people from public schools, but you would not be permitted to put that belief into practice. Nope.

In a rear guard response to the potential conflict, which has seen the resignation of at least six magistrates, North Carolina Senate President Pro Tem Phil Berger stated last week his intent to introduce a bill that would protect the jobs of public employees who refuse to issue marriage licenses or officiate same-sex weddings out of religious conviction. Although the details of the bill aren’t yet hammered down, Berger has stated, “The court’s expansion of the freedoms of some should not violate the well-recognized constitutional rights of others. Complying with the new marriage law imposed by the courts should not require our state employees to compromise their core religious beliefs and First Amendment rights in order to protect their livelihoods.”

Core religious beliefs? What’s core about them? They’re not remotely core. Point me to the much-quoted sermon or aphorism by Jesus that says Teh Homoseckshuals have to give you their shirts. Ha ha, that’s a trick command, because you can’t, because there isn’t one.

“Religious freedom” in relation to same-sex marriage has been coveredat lengthhere at RD, but I would like to stress the point that being required by an employer to perform essential duties that may infringe upon one’s individual religious beliefs, whether those beliefs are sincere or not, is not necessarily a violation of one’s First Amendment rights. And it certainly doesn’t necessarily amount to government hostility toward religion.

“Necessarily” is the key word here, of course, but this is especially the case when your employer is the state and your job requires on oath—an oath that is, it’s important to note, freely taken—that you uphold the law. The magistrate’s oath in North Carolina, for instance, requires him or her to swear to “faithfully and impartially discharge all the duties” of the office; registers of deeds must swear likewise.

Aha, they swear an oath, do they – that’s a useful detail.

All of this is not to make a more general philosophical or political argument about the authority of the state. I’m as suspicious of the next person about state authority and government overreach. It’s just to say that you can’t always have it both ways, especially as a public employee, and the fact that you can’t doesn’t automatically entail a violation of rights.

Actually you can hardly ever have it both ways. There’s a little known minor god that makes bad things happen if you try.



  1. gog says

    Refuse to do your duty as a public servant -> get fired in disgrace. There’s no freedom from consequences of behavior, especially when the intent is outright discrimination.

  2. says

    I keep harping on this, because it was obvious to me 35 years ago *when I was an evangelical Christian* and same-sex marriage wasn’t even on the radar: the religious and secular aspects of marriage are *two different things*. The one is a spiritual covenant made before God and witnessed by his church; the other is a civil contract about mundane matters such as property and inheritance, administered by some level of earthly government. One can sometimes be excused for confusing them, given that both aspects are often enacted during the same ceremony, but really, it’s not that hard to understand. And employees of the government need to be very clear that they administer only the earthly, legal side of it, and that is available to whomever the local law says is eligible, and that your religion does not own the whole shebang.

  3. Blanche Quizno says

    Aha, they swear an oath, do they – that’s a useful detail.

    Oh, yes, it IS a useful detail:

    Matthew 5:34-37 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne: Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King. Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black. But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

    That’s a quote attributed to the Christians’ Jesus. So if they’re REALLY Christians, they shouldn’t be seeking out jobs that require them to compromise their goddy principles in the first place.

    If one of their “core” beliefs is that they must never participate in teh ghey weddings, they need to get jobs that are not connected to gay weddings – what’s so difficult to understand here?? Or they can get jobs in churches – churches are free to refuse to marry people who are not in their congregation and to only extend membership to those they choose. Churches can make it a condition that a same-sex partner is an unweddingable condition – sure, it’s icky, but Christian churches’ reputation has fallen so far that even such a blatantly egregiously unloving policy couldn’t hurt their popularity at this point. Let them be as hateful as they wish – it will only hasten their extinction.

  4. Blanche Quizno says

    @2 Eamon Knight: In France, for example, if you wish your union to be legally recognized, you have to have a wedding performed by an agent of the secular government (justice of the peace or judge are our US equivalents). This brings with it all the legal benefits and responsibilities of such a union – tax status, property ownership, automatic joint custody of children, inheritance rights, right to visit in the intensive care unit of the hospital and make end of life and funeral arrangements for the deceased spouse, etc. If you ALSO wish to have a religious ceremony so that your fellow religionists will recognize your union (for social reasons only – nothing relating to the law), you may have a wedding ceremony in a church. But no religious leader is empowered to perform a state function such as a legal wedding. Because religious leaders are not qualified to make legal decisions.

    Where we in the US have made a complete hash of things is mixing the two – allowing religious leaders to be functionaries of the state, despite our (rather uneven) commitment to the separation of church and state. A religious wedding ceremony should carry all the legal weight of a baptism (none). It’s recognized by the religious group and no one else. For matters of law, only a representative of the government should have the power to change a person’s status.

    If the religious want to claim that “marriage” is officially a religious term only applicable to valid members of the approved religions, let them do so – and reduce “marriage” to the same legal status as “baptism”. In such a case, everyone who wishes to be legally recognized as a couple would have some sort of other status, conferred by a representative of the state.

    But that’s rather silly, isn’t it? Christians trying to claim this broad social institution for their own use exclusively? Who gives them the right to make such an autocratic and undemocratic dictate?? It’s sort of like how some Christians argue that only Christians should be allowed to celebrate Christmas, as it’s THEIR holiday. The rest of us should “show a little self respect” by refraining from misusing “their” holiday by celebrating it without plastering some “jesus” over it. Well, *I* certainly wasn’t consulted on such a matter, and I certainly don’t intend to allow them to push me around or try to force me to join up just to celebrate something that people have been celebrating since long before Christianity came around to mess everything up, and which people across the US, regardless of belief system, routinely celebrate in whatever way suits them. Christians routinely take something everyone wants (such as marriage – I know, not everyone chooses it or needs to, but it’s an important social institution/recognition) and claim it belongs to them – with the implication that, if people want to be able to fully participate in society, they MUST become Christian and join churches! This worked back in the day, when people mostly lived in small towns and rural settings, where there was always at least one Christian church in town, no matter how small the town, and the church served as the hub of social life. In urban settings, not so much. The dynamic where social pressure ensures that most everyone belongs to the church doesn’t apply – there are too many churches, too many people, too many other opportunities for socializing.

  5. says

    @5: Where we in the US have made a complete hash of things is mixing the two…

    Same in Canada, and of course we both inherited it from Britain. I believe in you can even still “publish banns” (ie. make a series of official announcements) in church as an alternative to getting a marriage license (some friends of ours did that, in 1980).

    FWIW, I don’t think it’s a priori unreasonable to allow presiding clergy to handle the legal side — all they’re really doing is witnessing the couple sign the paperwork, and then filing it with the appropriate bureau. However, it does have the unfortunate effect of creating this “cultural confusion”, and I would be happy to see a clean separation between the two.

  6. Blanche Quizno says

    I believe in you can even still “publish banns” (ie. make a series of official announcements) in church as an alternative to getting a marriage license (some friends of ours did that, in 1980).

    I’m afraid I have *no idea* what you’re describing here. Please explain??

  7. says

    @8: I read the Canada section of that article. I’m tickled that same-sex couples used the banns (in a gay-positive church) before it was legal to issue marriage licenses here. There’s a sort of delicious subversion in using the more traditional form to do something decidedly non-traditional :-).

  8. M'thew says

    Little note from the Netherlands, the first country to allow SSM: we unfortunately also had a provision that allowed state officials to refuse to perform these marriages, if this violated their (sincerely held) beliefs. We have finally, in this year of 2014 CE, gotten rid of that. Existing state officials that perform marriages are allowed to still refuse, new hires can’t get around it anymore. Yay for equality.

    By the by, we also have a provision for separating the secular marriage from religous ceremonies: you are only allowed to have you religious ceremony if you first perform the secular one. This is to ensure that noone can go into a church and get everything from the priest, without the state at least knowing there’s a union going on. Currently there’s an imam on trial, who apparently performed lots of sharia marriages without involving the state, so the state seems to be looking after its prerogatives here.

  9. says

    @10: And that also seems wrong to me, ie. the state dictating what ceremonies religious institutions can and cannot perform (and I’m damn sure it wouldn’t pass constitutional muster in the US, and maybe not in Canada). Within pretty broad limits, I should be able to make whatever promise I like in church/mosque/synagogue/temple — with the understanding that the state may not recognize the contract as enforceable in court, and won’t allow it to affect my status re taxation, medical consent, inheritance, etc.

    Which is not to say that there aren’t sometimes necessary entanglements between secular and religious. See for discussion of how this plays out in Jewish divorces.

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