Same-sex marriage opponent Matthew J. Franck in Washington Post‘s On Faith section talks about Obama using his faith to justify his support of marriage equality, and almost — almost! — has a point:
The mere fact that the president claims to have religious reasons — specifically Christian reasons — for supporting same-sex marriage has occasioned some interesting triumphalism in recent days among those who agree with him… If the people of California can be faulted for “imposing their religion” on their fellow citizens by passing Proposition 8, then it is equally true that President Obama is “imposing his religion” on his fellow Americans when he says, as he did last week, that laws preventing same-sex marriage are unjust to gay couples desiring to get married.
I grant that I’m not thrilled about anyone using religion to justify even progressive stances that I agree with. For example, I have a problem with the death penalty because of its immutability, the fact that it doesn’t work as a deterrent, and because I have a problem with the state deciding who lives and dies, but not because a stone tablet is purported to instruct me that I “shalt not kill.” The right thing is the right thing, and you don’t need Jesus to tell you one way or the other. So I do think it’s wrongheaded for progressives to hypocritically fault conservatives for using religious justifications for conservative positions, and then turn around and use religious justifications for their own progressive positions.
Anyway, Franck goes off the rails pretty quickly, thus my vociferous “almost”:
If he is not imposing his religion on anyone, neither is anyone else.
Hooooold on there, bub. False equivalence! Saying that you think it would be nice if we treated people equally because Jesus suggested it is not the same as declaring “God commands that we codify into law the oppression of the gays.” Nor is Mitt Romney imposing his religiously-motivated will when he says that marriage is between a man and a woman. He’s expressing a theological belief. But he would be imposing it if, as president, he worked for and signed into law a ban on same-sex marriage.
A major difference here is that if a President Romney (shudder) were to do so, he would be doing it purely for religious reasons. He may dress it up in secular-ish language about the stability of the American family or tradition or some other malarkey, but there is really no reason to oppose marriage equality unless one is doing so because one feels that the creator of the universe is squeamish about gay folks.
If Obama were to wave a wand and legalize same-sex marriage nationally, and did so purely because of his religious beliefs, he would still not be “imposing” his will on anyone. He’d be granting a right enjoyed by everyone else, and one which harms no one else. He’d be doing it for a silly reason (because a probably-mythical guy in sandals 2,000 years ago said we should be nice to each other) but he would not be forcing anything on anyone, other than maybe some local clerk who has to put a notarized stamp on the marriage certificate of Adam and Steve, and might feel grudgingly about it.
To boil it down: Saying “you may not do X” is an imposition. Saying “go ahead, guys” is not.
As a side note, we may see more of this kind of thing. In an interview at Religion & Politics, Mark D. Johnson notes that the Jesus example is often undergirding a push for equality:
I’m sure that the President’s invocation of faith was considered carefully beforehand. But that doesn’t make it insincere. And the way he invoked it echoes what a growing number of Christian writers have reported over six decades. Many devout Christians — members of the clergy, lay leaders, theologians and religious educators — have become convinced not just that discrimination against homosexuals is a violation of basic human rights, but that it goes directly against the teachings and the example of Jesus of Nazareth. So I was struck that the President spoke not just about the moral principle of the Golden Rule, but about Jesus’ sacrifice.
So there’s another way of looking at it: If Jesus is an example as a person, and his story is one that makes you wish to behave toward others in a certain way because it has inspired you, that’s very different than doing so because you think you’ve been instructed to by a guy who’s been dead for millennia. Or by his dad. Who is also him. Or whatever.