What Did Obama Really Say Today About Churches and Gay Marriage?

Elizabeth Scalia has some strong ideas on the topic, and quotes the White House statement: 

I applaud the Supreme Court’s decision to strike down the Defense of Marriage Act. This was discrimination enshrined in law. It treated loving, committed gay and lesbian couples as a separate and lesser class of people. The Supreme Court has righted that wrong, and our country is better off for it. We are a people who declared that we are all created equal — and the love we commit to one another must be equal as well.

This ruling is a victory for couples who have long fought for equal treatment under the law; for children whose parents’ marriages will now be recognized, rightly, as legitimate; for families that, at long last, will get the respect and protection they deserve; and for friends and supporters who have wanted nothing more than to see their loved ones treated fairly and have worked hard to persuade their nation to change for the better.

So we welcome today’s decision, and I’ve directed the Attorney General to work with other members of my Cabinet to review all relevant federal statutes to ensure this decision, including its implications for Federal benefits and obligations, is implemented swiftly and smoothly.

On an issue as sensitive as this, knowing that Americans hold a wide range of views based on deeply held beliefs, maintaining our nation’s commitment to religious freedom is also vital.  How religious institutions define and consecrate marriage has always been up to those institutions.  Nothing about this decision – which applies only to civil marriages – changes that.

The laws of our land are catching up to the fundamental truth that millions of Americans hold in our hearts:  when all Americans are treated as equal, no matter who they are or whom they love, we are all more free.

The choice of words is telling. What President Obama doesn’t say is as significant as what he does say.

At no point in the section on religion does he say churches are safe, that they shouldn’t be concerned, or that he will defend religious freedom from any legal threats (threats that are sure to come.)

At no point does he say that personal conscience is protected.

At no point does he say that he wants to reassure people of all faiths that their freedom to practice their religion as they wish is secure, and that they will not be compelled to violate their teachings or change them.

The last sentence, in fact, notes that this decision changes nothing. But we’re left to wonder about decisions yet to come.

It’s also striking that his voice is absent from that part of the statement. In other sections, he freely uses the first person — “I” or “we” to express his personal investment in this decision.  The religion graph, however, is written passively and poorly.  (A grammarian would be challenged to diagram that first sentence and find in it a subject. It’s all very indirect and squishy.)

The Anchoress, by the way, also reminded us of the president’s remarks at Notre Dame.  If you’re in the mood, read them again.  He never said he’d respect or protect the Catholic conscience. He never made any promises or gave any assurances. Rather, he spoke idealistically of being able to “talk” about the issue.

That’s it.

I guess he kept his word.

He talked.  Are we listening?


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