Thoughts about the “Gay Marriage” Debate and Christians’ Rights
I have already stated here and elsewhere how I think the “gay marriage” debate should be settled. Get government out of the business of decided who’s “married” and let government decide who may enjoy the privileges of “civil union.” My suggestion is that any two people should be permitted to enter into that arrangement which would have only to do with matters such as property sharing, privileges of making decisions for the partner when he or she is disabled, etc. In my plan “civil union” would be simply a legal arrangement and have nothing to do with sex. Churches, synagogues, etc., would decide whom they consider married (just as they now enjoy exclusive right to decide who is ordained, baptized, etc.).
So I’m not going to repeat that plan here. If you’re interested, you can find that post in the archives just by Googling my name and key words—a good way to find most of my past posts.
Today my concern is about the issue of conservative Christians having the right to refuse to do business with gays when they truly believe that it would cause them (the Christians) to sin.
When would that ever be the case? Well, according to some Christians, at least, providing services to “gay weddings” is sin. Why? 1 Timothy 5:22 forbids participation in others’ sins. Many Christian providers of wedding services believe same sex intercourse is sin. Therefore, making and selling a wedding cake, for example, for a gay wedding is (to them) a sin. It violates their Christian conscience.
Whenever I’m faced with a moral dilemma and feel the need to have an opinion about it, I think of analogous situations and what would be right, wrong, or necessary in those situations. I hope and expect that to shed some light on the urgent and contemporary moral dilemma I’m considering.
So, imagine a printing business owned by a Christian. A person comes to him and presents a printing job to be done. The printing job is to print pornography. One could expand the scenario. Imagine a Christian who owns a web page creating and hosting company and a customer wants her to create a pornographic web site and host it on her server. Should the Christian (or others who object to pornography) business owners be required by law to offer their services to such customers?
If you think so, well, let’s go a step further. Imagine an African-American who owns a printing business and a customer comes to him to print “white supremacist” literature. Does the African-American have a right to decline to do business with the person? What do you think?
Now, I’m NOT comparing gays with pornographers or white supremacists and if you think so you don’t understand the nature of comparisons. My comparisons are ONLY for the purpose of asking whether there are legitimate limits to legal requirements to do business with people. Almost everyone I know would say there are SOME such limits.
Back to the Christian (or other) business person who prefers not to do business with gays that would participate in their sin (as understood by the Christian business person). Does his or her right to exercise his or her religious freedom (not to be forced to violate conscience shaped by doctrine) over ride the gay couples’ right to patronize the business? Or does the gay couples’ right to do business over ride the Christian business person’s right to his or her free exercise of religion?
Almost nobody is really thinking deeply about this problem. Everywhere I turn in the media the debate is framed solely from the point of view of personal freedom for gays.
Now, let me be clear. I personally believe gays should not be discriminated against in hiring (except by churches and religious organizations which should have the right to hire whomever they wish), housing, access to necessary services, and in the criminal justice system. I even believe (with the Supreme Court) that what a person does with his or her own body in the privacy of his or her own home is no government’s business (so long as it does not involve illegal substances or exploitation or abuse of another person).
On the other hand, I believe a religiously committed person should not be forced by law to violate his or her conscience and that includes participating in another person’s sin. Simply doing business with a gay person cannot reasonably be considered participating in his or her sin. If doing business with sinners were “participating in a person’s sin” Christians would have to leave the world and go live in a colony like “The Village” (of the movie by that name). There is a difference between merely doing business with a sinner and participating in, contributing to, a person’s specific known sinful activity.
Back to analogies. Does a lawyer have to take on a client she knows is divorcing his wife solely to marry a “trophy wife?” Does a pacifist insurance agent have to write a policy for a business that makes parts for nuclear weapons? Does an animal rights activist who owns a business have to do business with a zoo? Does a privately owned store (sole proprietor) have to sell lottery tickets if gambling violates the owner’s conscience? Does a Jewish bookstore owner have to order for a customer a book that promotes anti-Semitism?
Traditionally we, as a society, have provided exemptions for people of conscience, especially religious conscience. People who can demonstrate that they have been and are pacifists do not have to serve in the military. People should not be forced to participate in others’ (perceived) sins. On the other hand, businesses that wish not to provide goods or services to certain people should have to demonstrate that doing so would violate their religious beliefs—just as conservative Anabaptists have to appear before a judge to explain and be exempted from jury duty.
I don’t have a suggested mechanism for this process, but surely it can be worked out. Apparently governments wrestling with this issue have not yet even attempted to work out such a process. As usual, the dilemma is being treated as a simple matter of “either-or.”
Now a warning to responding commenters: My experience tells me this subject (viz., gay rights, Christian responses to gay rights, etc.) inflames passions which are not welcome here. I will not post comments that 1) misrepresent what I wrote, 2) are inflammatory, uncivil, and/or 3) only offer reactions without reasons.