Part 3 of my "primer" on same-sex marriage, the Church, the state, and gay rights...
5. What is the role of the Church in this--or any religious body?
The Church--any religious body--has the same rights under our Constitution as any individual or group of individuals. Because we are a church, we do not have fewer rights.
Our tax-exempt status constrains our actions to some degree, but far less than people think. That tax-exemption means some limitation on political involvement, but only some. In practice, it means the Church cannot endorse or oppose candidates. It certainly does not constrain freedom of speech; nor does it constrain the Church from petitioning government on legislation (protected by the First Amendment) that affects the Church directly.
It certainly does not constrain me--I can say whatever I feel like, I can be as political as I wish, without running afoul of tax law...provided I am acting as an individual and not in my role as a part of the corporate body. For example, my posts on this blog. No court would ever find that my blog is "official" in any sense, any more than if I sat at a table in a restaurant, and gave my political views, that that represented "the Church" taking a political position.
Further, there is a very good argument to be made that the Church can, in fact, be as political as she wants, provided she is communicating internally to her own members. I.e., the government has no authority to regulate what is said within the organization; but it may place conditions--related to the tax status--on what the Church communicates to outsiders, i.e., society at large.
There are those who appeal either to the tax-status, or to an unspecified principle of "separation of church and state," as a basis for saying the Church should shut up about public policy. But there is a big difference between this unspecified principle and what the law--the Constitution, statute and their construal by courts over the years--actually says. And the actual state of the law is on the side of the freedom of action by religious bodies, constrained only to some degree by the tax status.
Periodically, politicians angered by the Church or other religious bodies winning on a point of public policy will issue threats to revoke that tax-exemption, but that comes to nothing. You can easily look this up: you will find that actual examples of tax-exemption being revoked came because of very specific and egregious violations. It is rare. I'm not saying the Church shouldn't obey the law; but the law is what the law says it is, not what people who don't like the Church's influence imagine it is.
6. What's the "harm" of allowing same-sex marriage? Why not go along with it?
Well, that's a good question. Someone said in another thread that he couldn't see how allowing "gay marriage" has hurt his marriage. (Shrug.) That doesn't really answer anything. Does that mean only a law becomes a bad law when it affects him? Does a law have to hurt everyone before we decide it was a bad idea? Silly argument.
Others may have other points to make, but I would offer these thoughts on this for now.
a) The "harm" comes in imposing on everyone a new definition of (part of) reality. It is an act of aggression.
"Marriage now means such-and-such." "Well, I don't agree with that." "Well, you're wrong--the city/state/courts voted. Once again, I ask--who gave any of these folks the right to change what marriage is? Instead of these these proposed laws and ballot measures, how about something like this: "I favor giving the state of Ohio the power to decide what marriage is, rather than merely regulate it for good order" or some verbiage like that. Government did not create marriage or family, these things pre-existed government. Government regulates these matters, as may be necessary. Personally, I prefer less such regulation than more.
After all, it is not true that two men or women cannot "marry" each other in an absolute sense. They can find a minister to perform a ritual of marriage, and they can deem themselves married to each other.
They can tell family, friends and neighbors that they deem themselves married, they can live as a married couple, and others can choose to treat them that way. They can even, to a great degree, create legal relationships to carry this out. (One argument used here for legalizing "same sex marriage" is to point to problems of access to hospital visitation, power of attorney, and other legal arrangements. I strongly suspect if these matters were tackled directly, it would be very easy to enact changes in state laws to eliminate these problems. I, for one, do not have much energy for preventing this.)
But what one cannot do in most states, and what is at issue, is to have the civil authority, i.e., society in a formal way, affirm that this is marriage.
If you want to call a sheep's tail a leg, and say a sheep has five legs, go ahead. I'm not going to make a thing about that. But when you pass a law saying I must agree, then I'm going to have a problem with that, as do most people, judging by the outcome of these legislative ventures in most states thus far.
b) The harm comes to the degree that it is even important that there be some social notion of marriage, as opposed to merely private notions. And this, I think, is the major harm: i.e., harm to the very cohesion of society.
What makes a society? What makes one society, one? One can give a lot of answers, but ours, in this country and in our western tradition, tends to be, a common set of values.
And really, those seeking approbation of "same sex marriage" seem to get this, because they either try to appeal to some other common value to justify this, or else they sense that in order for this to succeed, a new value has to displace an old one.
Hence, for example, when the District of Columbia created "same-sex marriage" in D.C., it also imposed obligations on others to go along--in this case, obligations on those accepting tax funds to carry out programs. Those programs had to go along with this new value; something the Archdiocese of Washington would not do, because it could not. And don't kid yourself--the further we go down this road, the expectations and compliance imposed on others will only increase. This is the narrow edge of the wedge.
c) So what is happening here is "radical" change in the truest sense: radical not meant as a pejorative, but meaning, change at the root. Marriage is at the root of society; it's primordial; it goes to basic human identity. What is at stake is redefining what these things are for all of us as a society, because if such fundamental things are "privatized," then the cohesion of society falls apart.
d) An additional harm lies in what comes through the door once opened. I.e., the law of (unintended) consequences.
This is a legal argument, for which I am not fully qualified, but I think I'm on good ground. As mentioned, marriage-as-heterosexual is not, as some claim, religious in origin. But monogamy is. So, supposing the campaign for "gay marriage" prevails, especially as a product of litigation, then one is left asking, why--if we liberalized marriage laws to allow what was forbidden--are polygamous marriages still not allowed.
This is not speculation; there are people who practice polygamy, at home and abroad. Unlike fictional "same-sex marriage," there is a real history and tradition to polygamy. And our laws against it do not rest on appeal to universal human experience. They rest on a claim that social order demands no polygamy; or else they rest on an attenuated relationship to Christian tradition. (And while we don't like to say it out loud, a lot of our laws, that's where they come from.)
Another "what's next" issue: once we sever any remaining essential connection between marriage and procreation, then why should we defend any essential connection between marriage and sex? I.e., why should the law prohibit any two people, any at all, from "marrying"? Two friends--with no sexual interest whatsoever--nonetheless wish to be married, to have the "benefits" of marriage (this is the argument we hear now)...who are they hurting by being recognized by our laws as "married"?
At some point, when marriage may be anything, then it is nothing. Then marriage has been successfully deconstructed. And it may be that we will find--if this is how it plays out--that it won't matter. Perhaps we really don't need marriage to be a certain thing as a fundamental feature of our society--or perhaps after all this experimentation, the truth of what marriage is will remain largely undimmed, or even triumphant.
But it strains credulity to suppose that all this experimentation will have no real-world effect on anyone. What effect have other social and legal changes--such as easing divorce laws--had on men, women, children, families and society? Don't know? Google it and find out.
It is quite true that I am unable to predict these matters. No matter. Instead of having to show the harm, or else the venture goes forward, I insist: why should we engage in this sort of wholesale restructuring of society? That's a lot to ask. The burden is on you to make the case--and given how much change you want to effect, I'd say the threshold should be set rather high.