One such instance from the very recent past is all of the turmoil over how the Supreme Court ruled on same sex marriage. I have no trouble understanding that some people’s religious beliefs preclude the religious acceptance of such a thing. Some folks do say that the only acceptable purpose of marriage is “proper” procreation and, since that’s not possible in a same sex marriage, then their religion opposes legalizing such things. Of course, this suggests that any couple which doesn’t create children is unacceptable, so widows and widowers who remarry are “wrong,” as are couples who are childless for any reason, medical or otherwise. I know of no church which opposes marriage under these circumstances however, as long as we’re talking about a heterosexual situation. Then there’s statements concerning the SCOTUS decision which I have heard like: “It’s redefining the nature of marriage as established by God.” “It’s one more statement of how we don’t want God in our lives.” I just don’t understand!
I’m not aware of any provision in the recent majority decision of SCOTUS that implies that ANY religious group is required to approve of same sex marriages, nor to welcome such couples into their religious communities. The important idea, it seems to me, is that this ruling establishes that since the various states have established certain legal rights relating to inheritance, custody of children (natural or adopted), kinship for purposes of medical procedures, etc. on the basis of marriage; then it’s reasonable to extend these rights to all couples who wish them, even in the case of same sex couples. The alternative is to deny some people these legal protections which reduces them to some sort of second class status and gives them no say in who they wish to have those LEGAL rights because of someone else’s “religion.” That doesn’t make sense to me. Of course, that’s exactly what has been suggested as proper by recent actions by the North Carolina legislature and, even, some state Attorneys General in stating that public officials can refuse to carry out their (in some cases) sworn duties because their personal religious beliefs somehow trump the law and to suggest that they shouldn’t be able to do this is an “attack on their religious freedom” (or on Christianity as a whole). [NOTE: I haven’t ever heard of anyone suggesting that these “anti God” rulings constitute any attack on the freedom of Jews, Muslims, Sikhs, or other religions, but that’s really not the point.]
I confess that I just don’t understand how the granting of legal rights to any specific population is somehow an attack on anyone’s religious freedom. I also don’t understand how a business can be open to the public, except for people which the owner (or clerk?) objects to on “religious grounds,” like LGBTs. I thought we had settled such questions a long time ago by suggesting the “separate, but equal” isn’t in the schools and in Montgomery and Greensboro. This seems to me to be the same sort of question.
Perhaps the real problem is that government has not made enough of a point that “marriage” is NOT exclusively a religious act or state of being; it’s a legal one. I don’t believe that I have missed out on the movement not to have states license marriage and not treat married families differently from single people in terms of taxation, etc. If there IS such a movement, I’m not aware of it, but I may have missed something….
I also have a problem with various political figures (and even some “non” political ones, like members of the Supreme Court) suggesting their displeasure at “activist” judges, “legislating from the bench,” “defying the will of the people,” “not allowing the people to vote on these issues,” etc. That sort of thing I just don’t understand!
As I read Article Three, the function, especially of the Supreme Court, is to be “activist” in the sense that it is its obligation to make the final determination as to what a law says or what the Constitution (and its Amendments) mean. Now, “The Equal Protection Clause is part of the Fourteenth Amendment to the United States Constitution. The clause, which took effect in 1868, provides that no state shall deny to any person within its jurisdiction "the equal protection of the laws." From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.” It seems rather obvious to me that allowing these legal “marriage” rights and privileges to be available only to one class of persons and to disallow even the possibility of the availability of such rights to another is clearly in violation of both the spirit and the letter of the Fourteenth Amendment. The Supreme Court is, therefore, merely doing its job in making a determination that what this Amendment says is what it means: i.e. equal protection is equal protection. Therefore, I don’t understand how doing your job is being somehow or other “activist” (which I presume we are supposed to think is bad) or is “legislating from the bench,” which I guess we are supposed to think means that they are just making up the law. It seems to me that the Fourteenth Amendment makes a pretty clear statement that everybody is supposed to be treated equally by the law and the Court simply decided that this wasn’t the case as things stood. My understanding is that that was their job.
As to the charge that the decision was “defying the will of the people” and that it is wrong not to let the people of the states vote on such matters, I think the ground is even more slippery. A “right” isn’t supposed to be something which we vote on. In fact, many have suggested that the point of the Bill of Rights was to make clear that all citizens have certain freedoms which can only be altered with considerable difficulty, so that the minority is protected from the “tyranny of the majority.” Now, apparently, some political figures seem to think that “rights” should be up to the states to decide, so that a “right” in one state might not be one in another, or even that they should be up to a popular vote. This seems like a poor way to establish “rights” (fundamental principles) to me and I would suggest that supporters of this notion might wish to be careful about encouraging it too strongly. If we’re going to put some “rights” to a popular vote, we really should do the same for all of them. Somehow, that doesn’t seem like a very good idea, at least to me.
The other “hot” topic at the moment is the use (or misuse) of the Confederate battle flag. I confess, since I am from the North (born and raised in Illinois) when I moved to the South (North Carolina) in 1971 and even while I was in graduate school in Georgia a few years later, I believed what I was told: that the Confederate flag was simply a symbol for honoring those who were on the side of the Confederacy during what is sometimes referred to in the South as “the late unpleasantness.” [One COULD, rather unkindly perhaps, point out that since making war on the nation is treason, there is little to honor, but I really don’t want to get into that aspect of the issue. After all, the Founding Fathers of the USA were, in fact, traitors to the British crown.]
However, I have heard a few things and done a bit of research in the last few days. I have discovered that the battle flag, in fact, wasn’t particularly commonly flown or supported as a symbol of Southern heritage until the late 1950’s and early 1960’s when it was apparently adopted as a symbol of resistance to the black civil rights movement. Given that, I confess that I have to wonder about the sincerity of what I had been previously told. If the Confederate battle flag was not in common use in the flags of the states of the deep South, nor had it been flown prominently in public places in these states until after the civil rights movement started to “stir things up,” then it seems difficult to accept that the use of that flag was “always” just “to honor the bravery of our ancestors,” and the like. Looking a slight bit deeper, I discovered that even the Ku Klux Klan made at least as much (perhaps more) use of the US flag as of any version of the Confederate one up until about this time. More to the point, however, I just don’t understand how anyone who sincerely believes in the Confederate battle flag as only a symbol of Southern heritage could have just sat on the sidelines while their “proud symbol” was coopted by racist, white supremacist, anti-Catholic, anti-Jewish ideologues and used for purposes of hatred and intimidation. That makes no sense to me. If someone can explain this to me, I’d appreciate it.
P.S. I’ve included (Part 1) in the title of this post as I may find myself similarly confused about some thing(s) in the future, so I’m leaving myself the option of using this title again. RSB