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Saturday, October 23, 2010

Postcards from the Edge

So a Certain Party, in his duties as Archwarden, received a postcard in the mail co-authored by two well-known anti-gay organizations. The message therein frantically warns all churches and synagogues that their tax-exempt status is in imminent danger. Apparently "pending court cases and legislation" will restrict same from "preaching scriptural truths" without fear of IRS agents beating the doors down.

The postcard breathlessly instructed all recipients to visit a website for a "Judeo-Christian Voter Guide" which they could freely print out and distribute to their congregations. "It's perfectly legal," we are assured, to attempt to sway voters in this manner.

When I was done laughing, there was no way in hell I was going to said website, so I would remain in the dark about what "scriptural truths" may soon be illegal to discuss from the pulpit, except that they are listed for us right on the card, and they include the usual suspects of same-sex "marriage" (can you see James Dobson doing air quotes?) and "the sanctity of life" e.g. abortion.

I am pretty good about following the news, and I have yet to hear anything said about it becoming illegal for churches to preach whatever moose-caca they want. The only "threat" I am aware of was in fact made to a progressive church during the reign of George the Younger which dared to suggest that Jesus was against war.

I do know that said organizations have tried to make religious groups worry that -- were same-sex marriage to be come legal -- they would be forced to conduct such weddings whether they agree with them or not. Case in point, the "gathering storm" video which was so immediately and effectively lampooned here, and here... oh and here.

Locally this paranoia has been fueled by the debate about the Methodist Camp Meeting Association in Neptune Township, which refused to rent a public shelter on the boardwalk in its Ocean Grove enclave to two lesbian couples on the grounds that it is sometimes used for religious services and would be somehow desecrated by a same-gender wedding ceremony. This despite the fact that it is an open structure on a public walkway and has historically been rented to couples of all or no religious background for similar events at which its clergy did not officiate. Just not gay ones.

One of the two organizations whose names appear on said postcard tried and failed to escalate the skirmish to the Federal level. Further complicating matters is the fact that the Association has received about a half-million dollars of "Green Acres" tax money for maintenance and repairs on its facilities, stating in the process that they are open to the public. This, says Congressman Frank Pallone (who coincidentally helped them get the money during his tenure as a state representative) means the Association should be subject to the state's anti-discrimination law, which protects on the basis of sexual orientation. While this is battled out in court, the Association ceased allowing any weddings on its property. Also left out of the argument is the fact that dozens of LGBT-owned homes and businesses lease land from the Association, and in fact the New York Times went as far as saying the gay community helped the area's resurgence.

The couples in this case were not asking for the church to give its approval to their relationship or the decision to solemnize it. They simply wanted to avail themselves of a facility that had been rented to numerous other couples (about whose fitness for marriage the Association had no knowledge when it accepted their check) for the same purpose.

Pardon me while I apply some window-treatments to the bus-sized hole in the theory that the free exercise of religion will be lost if same-sex marriage is made legal:

As far as I know, it is legal everywhere in the U.S. for persons who have been legally divorced to remarry. In New Jersey, as I assume in most states, marital status is already a protected class under non-discrimination law for places of public accommodation.

However, the Roman Catholic Church, among others, will not marry a couple of whom one or both parties have been divorced, unless they have also obtained an annulment, which is a church procedure. Technically, one could argue that this violates the law, by discriminating against divorced people (a marital status).

Have you ever heard of any court trying to force a church to marry a couple it didn't see as fit for it? I sure haven't.

Belonging to a church is a voluntary thing, and by doing so one would assume you are either willing to live within its rules or follow whatever internal procedures there are (if any) to get those rules changed. You wouldn't ask a court to intervene on your behalf, because you could just leave and find a church that agreed with you. The state has no interest in making churches marry people they don't want to. It receives no free toaster for each couple that ties the knot, and it has its own agents in place to handle what is -- from its perspective -- a legal contract that simply requires someone it has verified is not a crackpot to witness it.

The thing that continues to stymie this conversation is that none of the "anti" folks has managed to articulate exactly what it is that will change in their lives if the same-sex couples around them are allowed to wed. During the Perry v. Schwarzenegger Proposition 8 hearings in California (I still giggle when I think of the Ahnold being a party in this case, and in fact the state put very little effort into defending the proposition which Schwarzenegger personally opposes), the defense was unable to produce a single concrete argument. The American people are slow to accept change, but watching these bogeyman tactics in contrast to current culture and mindset is becoming increasingly comical. Seriously folks, if an eleven-year-old gets it, what's your excuse?

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