More Good News for Gay Marriage


In June, supporters of same-sex marriage in West Hollywood, Calif., celebrated the Supreme Court’s ruling striking down the Defense of Marriage Act. (Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

The Obama administration is bringing the power of the federal government to bear in supporting gay marriage. First, the attorney general’s office refused to enforce DOMA, then they repealed DADT in the military, and now the IRS will afford marital tax benefits to all legally married couples, regardless of what state they reside in:

WASHINGTON — All same-sex couples who are legally married will be recognized as such for federal tax purposes, even if the state where they live does not recognize their union, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service said Thursday.

It is the broadest federal rule change to come out of the landmark Supreme Court decision in June that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and a sign of how quickly the government is moving to treat gay couples in the same way that it does straight couples.

The Limits of Religion

Two stories caught my eye/ear in the last 24 hours.  The first came on MPR last night.  It seems that a group of Somalian Muslims had boycotted the first few days of school in the small town of Winona, Minnesota because their children were not being allowed to pray when they wanted.  Six years ago, the school superintendant reported, a group of parents and administrators had agreed on when the children could pray, even though the prayer times shift slightly every day in relation to sunrise and sunset.  But the current parents don’t feel they should have to abide by an agreement made six years ago by other people.

But, of the entire report, I found a quote by an Islamic rights expert to be the most interesting.  He said that afternoon prayer can take place anytime between 1:30pm and 4:00pm — it’s just that some Muslims only want to pray at the very beginning of that time and not wait until, as the superintendent called it, “Non-instructional time” (a.k.a., passing time, recess, lunch, etc.).

The other story has been around for a while, but it’s just been written up poignantly by its protagonist and posted on Steve Waldman’s blog.  Doug Kmiec is a scholar and author with conservative, Republican bona fides out the wazoo.  But he endorsed BO because of BO’s commitment to the full range of life issues.  In a much ballyhooed incident, Kmiec, a devout Catholic, was denied the Eucharist by a priest, and even shouted at during the mass for “cooperating with evil” and “killing babies.”

It seems to me that both of these are stories of religion beyond the limits of religion (how’s that for a Rollinsesque turn-of-phrase?).  These are examples of when religion slips past theology and into the realm of unthinking ideology.  And, methinks, this is the very thing that Jesus so often spoke and acted out against.  When we turn thoughtful, reflective theology into reactionary, unthinking behavior, we’ve left Christianity (or Islam, for that matter) and ventured into a space that is no longer bounded by a humilty before God.


Last week, I had the pleasure of being on a conference call with a few other Christian leaders and some of the religious outreach staffers from the Obama campaign.  I wrote about my support for Obama long ago, and I’ve been relatively active in my support of him ever since.  I’ve been contacted by the campaign a couple times, but this was my first actual interaction.

(For those who argue that those of us in emergentland who support Obama (or any candidate, for that matter) are just a new version of the Religious Right…puh-leeze.  It’s nothing of the sort.  For one, we are a lot more cynical about the political process than righties were thirty years ago.  Don’t you get it, Bob?  The Obamessiah talk is ironic.  Second, I really have nothing to gain from an Obama presidency, except maybe a more just and civil country.  And I could go on about the differences…)

I think there were about eight pastorish people on the call, and three or four Obama staffers came and went.  For obvious reasons, I won’t disclose who was on the call, but I did notice something interesting.  I’d say that the group broke down as 5 older leaders, and 3 of us I’d call “youngish.”  I’ll refer to us as The Three and them as The Five.

The call began with some serious hand-wringing from The Five.  They were quite upset by the Palin Pick, and they strongly encouraged the O staffers to have BO go hard after her, exposing her lies and distortions about climate change, earmarks, etc.

The Three were almost completely unconcerned with Palin and suggested that O focus exclusively on McCain.

Then, the sparks started to fly.  One of The Three suggested that if O wants to peel off a segment of evangelicals under 40 who already share his concern for the environment, fighting poverty, and foreign diplomacy, that he must talk forthrightly about abortion. (Most of us will admit that O fumbled the ball at the Saddleback Forum when he told Rick that the decision about when life begins was above his pay grade.  He later admitted as much to George Stephanopolous.)

To this, The Five became quite upset.  They said that if O talks about abortion on the stump, he’s allowing the Religious Right to set the agenda.  One of The Three countered that, among his friends, abortion is the one thing holding younger evangelicals back from full-throated support of O.  One of O’s staffers said that O does very much want to reduce abortions, and he went on to say that abortions decreased during the Clinton administration and increased during W’s term.  The Republicans, quite simply, use abortion as a wedge issue during election years and then do NOTHING (yes, I’m shouting) to reduce abortions.

The Five continued to protest, saying that abortion is not an issue that O should deal with much.  To which I replied, “Do you want to win, or are you more interested in your principles?”

And this, it seems to me, is the most common stumbling block for progressives and liberals (I consider the former to be more centrist, and the latter to be more leftist).  Too often, they’ll stand on principle until it’s too late.

For my part, I encouraged BO to talk openly and candidly.  He thinks abortions are bad, and he wants to reduce them.  He doesn’t think that criminalizing doctors or mothers is the answer.  He thinks we need a more fully-orbed response to the problems of promiscuity and poverty that too often lead to abortions.

I think he needs to talk about this in Pennsylvania and Michigan and Florida and Ohio, and he needs to not look so uncomfortable when the subject comes up.  In fact, I really hope that BO is ready to address this issue head-on in the debates, because I think he can win over a lot of younger evangelicals who are currently on the fence.

My Palin Quote?

Eric Gorski of the AP and I had a fun conversation about Palin and evangelical politics last week.  He wrote a good piece on younger evangelicals and their response to the Palin pick.  Doug and I each get quoted near the end.