Will Gay Marriage Mean More Religious Pluralism?

It is far too easy to quote the (largely Christian) opponents to New York’s decision adopting same-sex marriage and use it to make some larger point. You’ve got the Catholic Bishop of Brooklyn advising his flock to shun lawmakers who voted for same-sex marriage, you’ve got the Family Research Council making some disturbing allusions about the Empire State Building, and you have presidential candidate Rep. Michelle Bachmann trying to be simultaneously for states rights and a Constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage (even Fox News said she was “threading a thin needle”). I could go on, and on, and on, and on. All the convenient haters saying all the convenient things. It’s rare to hear something new about this topic.

What’s refreshing is reading thoughtful reappraisals from conservative opponents in the wake of New York supporting gay marriage, or even hearing an interesting argument wrapped in what could have been a fairly conventional liberal pro-same-sex-marriage editorial.

When gay marriage is legal everywhere, “the opponents will be revealed for carrying water for a larger kind of orthodoxy,” Olbermann predicted. “Their church is opposed to same-sex marriage because same-sex marriage means diversity, and diversity means peaceful interactions between members of different groups and religions, and peaceful interactions means fears and prejudices are diminished, and the diminishing means those churches’ cartel in the religion business is jeopardized.”

Yes, that was a quote from the recently restored to television Keith Olbermann. I know he can be a pretty divisive figure for some, but I wanted to address the idea that gay marriage is increasing religious pluralism. That it is, in the words of Olbermann, diminishing religious “cartels” in the United States. A cartel is, according to Wikipedia“a formal (explicit) agreement among competing firms.” Which if you think about the state of things today isn’t too far-fetched a comparison in describing religion in the public sphere. Moral questions, religious questions, are all framed in a Judeo-Christian worldview. The “competing firms” of Catholics, Protestant Evangelicals, and occasionally Jewish or old mainline Protestant groups, have all agreed (whether implicitly or explicitly) to frame everything from the perspective of the dominant monotheisms. In my criticisms of the “religious left” I’ve noted the tired “lefty Jesus vs. righty Jesus” or even “lefty patriarchal sky father vs. righty patriarchal sky father” narrative, when instead coalitions should be built around issues not theologies.

Just the other day I talked about the difficult transition into post-Christianity, and the acceptance of same-sex marriage by our society certainly is a sign that the old moral status quo is being replaced by something new. It’s hard to pull back from the daily battles and chaos to see how things will develop, but I do see this as an opportunity for religious minorities to establish themselves as ahead of the curve, flexible, and pluralistic on issues like same-sex marriage. A legacy of Pagan and Hindu faiths, according to a guest post by Mihir Meghani, M.D.; Board Member & Co-Founder of the Hindu American Foundation.

“Hindus and Pagans can make a lasting contribution to the world by once again promoting pluralism as a core value of society and its individuals – something evidently lacking in the world today in which intolerance is so prominent. We need to challenge ourselves to make pluralism a value similar in respect to values such as honesty and charity. People should be proud to proclaim that they are pluralist – that they revel in and respect the diversity around them. Children should be raised with this value. For the survival of not only our traditions but humanity altogether, we must move from the motto of, “I will tolerate you though you are wrong,” to a true commitment to pluralism.”

Fighting for the equal rights and treatment of same-sex couples ultimately benefits the religions that support those rights. While the old order ruptures with debate and schism over treating gay couples with dignity, the faiths and philosophies that don’t rely on a singular revealed truth to argue over already know how to accommodate multiple theological positions under a “big tent”. The “heretic” in modern Paganism is largely seen as someone starting a new path or understanding, not as someone to be feared or attacked. Same-sex marriage is just the first in many issues that will challenge the dominant monotheisms living in secular nations. The next 20 years will see many more. Could that time see a growth of pluralism as a side-product of controversy, schism, and reactionary fear? Stranger things have happened.

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About Jason Pitzl-Waters
  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501005243 Alison Leigh Lilly

    “The “competing firms” of Catholics, Protestant Evangelicals, and occasionally Jewish or old mainline Protestant groups, have all agreed (whether implicitly or explicitly) to frame everything from the perspective of the dominant monotheisms.”

    Overall an interesting article, Jason, but I think here you tread a bit too close to conspiracy-theorist for my taste. The explicit/implicit (or, more accurately, intentional/unintentional) question is perhaps the key question in determining the future of religious pluralism and interfaith dialogue. I’m not comfortable assuming that simply because certain large percentages of the population enjoy unquestioned privilege, that they’re therefore all implicated in intentionally monopolizing that privilege at the expense of others and deliberately ignoring or oppressing alternative views.

    I think it’s important to remember that even if most Pagans are ahead of the curve when it comes to acceptance and pluralism in regards to sexuality (and recent debates within the Pagan community show that we’re not all there yet) – if we look at the sheer numbers, there are far more Christians than Pagans pushing for LGBTQ rights and other social justice causes. Even if liberal/progressive Christians are the minority among monotheists these days, there are still more of them than there are Pagans. Let’s not be too quick to congratulate ourselves and claim the victory as our own, without acknowledging the role that mainstream religions can and do still play in forwarding causes of social justice.

    Honestly, I’m not really concerned about which religions “ultimately benefit” from this success. Like you said – issues, not ideologies should be the focus here. What’s more important is that people in the LGBTQ community will benefit, and by extension, everyone living in our diverse world (which means, all of us).

  • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

    Ali, hopefully not conspiracy theorist! I’ve been reading a remarkable
    new history book (“Tri-Faith America”) that makes a strong claim that
    our current religious consensus was very much a willing construction
    by religious leaders in the early 20th century. One that was
    solidified during WW2 and the Cold War, and only started to see cracks
    during the civil rights struggles of the 1960s. I’m hoping to
    spotlight an interview with the author soon.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=501005243 Alison Leigh Lilly

    The idea that the country took a decidedly obvious and intentional turn towards consolidating religious (especially Christian) faith leading up to and during the Cold War in response to perceived Communist godlessness is not a new theory. There is a clear Christian flavor to the Civil Religion in this country, as I’ve argued before.

    But I’m not convinced that it’s helpful to focus so exclusively on the anti-pluralist response, especially when it is certainly not a willfully malicious one among the vast majority of Christians and is primarily perpetuated by a few loud, powerful voices (who only gain in credibility when they hold the sole attention of the media). It just struck me as odd that in the very same article where you insist that we should focus on issues not ideologies, you end by encouraging readers to think of this issue in terms of which religions will “win” the benefit, and which will lose. That sounds an awful lot like ideology to me, and completely besides the point of what’s actually important – which is that when diversity and pluralism are upheld, everyone benefits. Just my opinion…

  • Anonymous

    “But I’m not convinced that it’s helpful to focus so exclusively on the anti-pluralist response, especially when it is certainly not a willfully malicious one among the vast majority of Christians….”

    Actually, significant numbers of individual Christians hold “willfully malicious” ideas, such as the idea that Christianity should be the state religion. 25% of all Christians in the US believe that “the government should take special steps to make America a Christian country,” according to Pew. This goes up to 52% for Pentecostalists (and Pentecostalists now number about 500 million worldwide and are growing very rapidly).

    Also, 20% of American Christians believe that AIDS is a punishment sent from God. And 42% of all American Christians believe they have a duty to convert non-Christians.

  • Anonymous

    As Noam Chomsky is fond of pointing out, it’s not a conspiracy theory but rather “institutional analysis.”

  • http://badocelot.com badocelot

    The way I read Jason’s statement was that where once it had been Catholics vs. Protestants vs. Jews vs. everybody else, there’s now a shared ideology that makes it the God of Abraham vs. the Forces of Darkness(tm), with the main variation being which side Islam falls on.

    My motto is, “Never attribute to conspiracy what you can reasonably attribute to shared ideology.”

  • Anonymous

    Jason, I very much appreciate your framing of this issue in terms of whether or not one group (or “cartel”) of religions gets to enforce their religious views on the rest of the country, especially on those of us who have opposite religious views. I hadn’t thought of it in these terms until you began to make the point. It’s religious discrimination to tell a Pagan priestess that she can’t marry gay people (even though she can marry hetro people) when her religion calls upon her to treat all acts of love and pleasure as rituals of the Goddess, when her religion calls upon her to value and respect all people. And to deny her the opportunity to practice her religion simply because it conflicts with the religious views of others makes it even worse.

    One thing NY did was to work in some “religious exemptions” that took some issues (“They want to make Catholic priests marry two men!”) off the table and allowed some Republicans to vote for marriage equality. I’m not crazy about all of the exemptions, but they did make this possible.

    You say, “Same-sex marriage is just the first in many issues that will challenge the dominant monotheisms living in secular nations,” and I’d be interested in seeing you expand upon that in some future posts.

  • Ursyl

    I’m not bothered by the religious exemptions in so far as clergy from a faith that does not believe in any form of marriage except hetero not being forced to perform non-hetero weddings. They have religious freedom too.

    I would have a problem with infringing on their religious freedom the way they and their hegemony have been infringing on ours (UU Pagan in my case) to perform and recognize marriages for non-heterosexuals. Not all turn-about is fair play.

    Now I do have a problem if this extends to reception venues that are open to the public. Just as restaurants and other public accommodations are dis-allowed from discriminating based on race or such, any venue that has been renting to the public should not now suddenly be able to indulge in discrimination based on the owners’ religious prejudices.

  • Anonymous

    I totally agree. I tried to post this on the Washington Posts On Faith, but the comments weren’t working. But esentially, if is is a part of a religious sacrement, then you’re exempt. Just as Catholic priests are already allowed to discriminate against divorced people wanting to remarry. But the difference is when it is a business transaction. Like the Minneapolis Muslim taxi drivers not picking up “intoxicated infidels”. They can lose their taxi licenses now.

  • Anonymous

    Voltaire once said that if there is only one religion, then there is despotism; if there are only two religions, then they will “cut each other’s throats”; but if there are thirty religions, then “they live in peace and happiness.”

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    Yes, but Voltaire was fun 😛

  • Anonymous

    Yes, Voltaire had a great sense of humor.

    Some claim that he had a deathbed conversion to Christianity, while others insist that when the Priest instructed him to renounce the Devil, Voltaire retorted that “this is no time to start making new enemies.”

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    One place gay marriage will stimulate religious pluralism is in the commonplace that a family accepts their gay son or daughter even if the family church does not. When that party marries, if they do it in a religious setting it will not be that of the family church. Thus there will be more than one religion at work in this extended family. Of course this often happens in interfaith marriages, but gay marriage will expand the effect.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1678081929 Bill Wheaton

    As I was watching the debate, minutes prior to the vote Friday night where the subject was about exemptions, I kept turning to my wife saying “fine, let them have their exemptions. If they don’t want to marry Gays, they shouldn’t have to. And when they get rejected from their religion and seek out another, we will be waiting with respect, honor, love and community and they will wither even more.

    Not only does this mean diversity, it means strength. When you dead-head the flowers, they bloom again.

  • Caliban

    Well, it’s nice to feel we Pagans are ahead of the game in terms of eadvocating diversity, but let us not be so complacent as to forget that it is not too terribly long ago that the main branch of Gardnerian Wicca had (and for all I know still does have) a condemnation of homosexuality, along with the Curse of the Goddess (!) pronounced in plain terms in the “Laws of the Craft” or “Ardanes”.

    That is, there are socially conservative Pagans as well who are just as ready to cite religious principals in asserting the homosexuality, bisexuality or transgenderism is wrong. This is by no means an issue that all Christian or Jewish or Muslim denominations are on the wrong side of, nor is it one upon which Pagan faiths are necessarily all taking the progressive stance.

    In this regard, religious pluralism is no guarantee of greater tolerance. I have been gay for every bit as long as I have been Pagan – I was introduced to my first coven by my first boyfriend – and it is simply unrealistic to expect that on an issue as divisive as sexual orientation that we will by virtue of some sort of transcendant Pagan wisdom have left behind all our own disagreement on these issues.

  • Elnigma

    The Ardanes were probably written as an excuse to replace the aging High Priestess with someone younger and cuter. Their introduction was not exactly a proud moment in paganism.

  • Caliban

    Yes – Valiente and others have given us at least one look at how they were introduced. But the thing to recall is that what Doreen was skeptical of was the convenient references to setting aside an HPS – though the “curse of the goddess” bit might have been in a later addendum.

    What is key here is that the clause wasn’t challenged at the time, and at a point in the seventies you had the mainstream still not at all ready to accept the idea, and an odd array of progressive voices from Herman Slater to Tim (Otter, Oberon) Zell (-Ravenheart).

    Only in the 80s did, say, the Farrars or Raymond Buckland reconsider their stance, and while that was long before, say, the Episcopal Church took a progressive stance, there [i]are[/i] still holdouts among Pagans of many paths who remain convinced against any evidence presented to them that it is against nature.

    Those voices are in a minority now, but probably not as small a minority as we like to think. Where such opinions are unpopular, they are less likely to be publically aired. I do, however, still hear the occasional hostile remark or barbed observation shot my way.

    Religion is not the source of morality – it is how mores propagate. We have made a good beginning on learning to see things in a better, more tolerant or celebratory light, and that is good. But I think it would be a mistake to think we’ve made it, and now just need to hold up our lamp to light the way of the poor, benighted mainstream monotheists staggering after us in the dark.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_24XXMHWHG5J2KXE47WMVUWP3BA C B

    As a gay pagan, of course, I support the right for GLBTQ people to marry but there’s a problem that hasn’t been considered; that “marriage” is a dead institution; that the very idea of two people being together legally was a power grab from the beginning and the fact that it must be “sanctioned” by a major religious body makes it even more ridiculous.
    People in my community are pinning their hopes for social acceptance on whether or not “daddy” will let them be together when it’s obvious that the real issue here is one we should be meeting from an entirely different perspective, that being…Why are we continuing to allow “institutions” to interfere with our lives.
    If two people (or more…) (assuming they are consenting adults)want to be together for a large space, why should the guhvurnmint or church have any say in that whatsoever?
    If those same two (or more) people desire to separate, why is it anyones business.

    I think the real problem here is the extent to which we have allowed t’tianity to influence our lives. It is the basis for many laws, “socially acceptable” behaviors and prior to this era, even the definitions of what we call a home, a family and “proper religion”

    I don’t believe that legalizing gay marriage will result in a better world or bring about more religious pluralism, simply because marriage itself is a barren wasteland with salted earth…and it will not grow anything.


  • Anonymous

    If two people (or more…) (assuming they are consenting adults)want to be together for a large space, why should the guhvurnmint or church have any say in that whatsoever?

    You know, I appreciate the sentiment, but, as a lawyer, I have to say that, as long as we have a government that enforces contracts (and, as of now, it’s either that or we raid each other’s cattle when we feel cheated and an eye-for-an-eye makes the whole world blind) then it’s important for all people to have equal access to such contractual enforcement. It’s important to have police officers who will, if necessary, enforce a spouse’s right to visit in hospital, even when the fundie family and Catholic hospital don’t like that. Inheritance, child visitation, etc., etc., etc.

    I do get how patriarchial marriage has been and how negatively many of us perceive it to be, but it does provide rights to people who choose to contract with each other and if government has any function at all, enforcing just contracts is, IMHO, one of them.

  • Donna Bowles

    I have to respectfully disagree that marriage is a dead institution, or that the only reason people are seeking to equalize same and opposite sex marriage is so that gay relationships will be normalized or socially acceptable.

    I’ve been married for nine years (as of tomorrow, actually) and since I’m a woman married to a man I enjoy a number of legal benefits that same-sex couples don’t have. Financial privileges, like the fact that I am covered on my husband’s health insurance, I own half of our family’s property (so neither of us can kick the other out on the street should our relationship end), we can file our taxes jointly and he can claim me as a dependent (though truthfully I don’t know if a same sex couple could do the same).

    We’re also each others legal next of kin, so if the worst should happen and one of us dies unexpectedly, or is injured badly and cannot make our own medical choices, the other has the responsibility to make the decisions about medical procedures and/or final arrangements. This may not seem like a privilege, but a spouse denied that right would likely consider it so, especially if the legal next of kin were to choose to exclude the spouse from the process all together.

    Marriage may not be the same institution it once was, but it is the way our government offers couples legal protection and privileges when they decide to build a life together. I see no reason same-sex couples should be denied those protections when they decide to build a life together, too.

  • Ursyl

    You do realize, don’t you, that marriage predates the Abrahamic religions? In fact, even before the Church took over the concept in Europe, people were marrying. It was not a government controlled institution, but a societal thing, even back when societies were groups of hunter-gatherers in which everyone knew everyone and enough generations back were related.

    Now that our societies have evolved to much more complex forms, that which was Always a contract (whether just between the couple or between their families), is now a matter of Law to enforce.

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_24XXMHWHG5J2KXE47WMVUWP3BA C B

    Hi Ursyl,

    I know there was marriage before phallocentric religion. What I’m saying is that “Marriage” isn’t the same as marriage. I feel it’s not simply a matter of two people deciding to be together and having their tribe say “Yay! You Guys!”
    …this issue is about people hundreds of miles away…whom you’ve never met…having control over your wedding.
    That fact alone is enough to kill any sense of true togetherness and enough to delineate any concept of communal affirmation of your relationship. Essentially, if it has to do with the church and the guhvurnmint, then your family, friends and neighbors aren’t truly involved.

  • The_L

    As a poly Pagan, I’m inclined to agree with you, but as an educator who wants kids, I’m forced to pick one guy and marry him (gay marriage is illegal in my state, and adoption by same-sex couples yo-yos between legality and illegality all the time).

    It will take much longer to get rid of the idea of marriage than it will to incorporate same-sex couples or even poly groups into that idea. It’s pretty thoroughly ingrained into the common mindset as something “proper” adults do when they want to live together.

  • Norse Alchemist

    Once again, I see words like Pluralism and Diversity. Once again, I see them fail to live up to their ideals.

    When I first learned of Pluralism and Diversity, I thought it a good thing. The idea that there were many ways to live, and that all could be viewed and treated equally. Sadly, it is just another set of words for intolerance. A new kind of intolerance, but an intolerance none the less.

    Where is the respect for Catholic beliefs? I hate the Catholic church as much, if not more, than the next Pagan/Heathen. But I feel they have as much a right to their beliefs as I do to mine, especially here in America. Where we have freedom of religion. Or the other Christians for that matter? Or any group that believes for whatever reason, that marriage is between a man and woman?

    Those are not my views. Mine are more complicated.

    But the fact is that The people I see calling for Pluralism and Diversity, sure don’t seem to have a lot of plurality in their thinking, or diversity in their thoughts. Either one supports gay marriage, or one is a homophobic, intolerant piece of scum that needs to “Wise up, become tolerant, embrace the new age, throw away those out of date and evil beliefs.”

    Should Gay people have the right to get married? Sure, I guess. I have no idea why they’d want to. Marriage ain’t all that wonderful. Over half end in divorce, and those that don’t, well, many more end up sad than do happy it seems.

    As for all the “intolerance” we have in this country, I still can’t help but wonder about that. I mean, we have more racial and gender equality than has existed in the history of the human race, here in America. Sure, we’re not perfect, but Gods we are so far ahead of the curve that no one could have imagined it. And if you look at the rest of the world, this place is pretty much a paradise. Do you think we could worship our Gods and Goddesses in Saudi Arabia? I mean, look what they do to homosexuals in the Middle East, in Africa, South America?

    So I have to ask, those who speak of Pluralism and Diversity and Tolerance, how are you making America, or the World, a better, more tolerant place, by shaming and being intolerant to those who believe differently then you?

  • Gavin Andrew

    One question I haven’t seen asked so far: what business should the government have in regulating marriage to begin with?

    If we take the position that marriage is a personal contract between two adults, why should the government regulate it at all? Governments seem to have a far more ‘hands-off’ approach when it comes to regulating the kinds of contracts corporations enter into. If two people can enter into a personal contract, why not three, as corporations do every day? Why not more? For that matter, why must there be a presumption of a romantic or sexual union? Why can not people in carer/invalid reliationships have similar legal protections to married couples? What about those living in religious or other intentional communities where property is held in common? Why can not the legal protections afforded by marriage be extended to other kinds of relationships?

    Yes, this is a big win for common decency and civil rights in the U.S, but to my mind, legislative restrictions to marriage on the basis of gender is only one of a number of absurdities when it comes to governments regulating our bedrooms.

    I have never understood why conservatives have never (up until now, anyway) followed their ‘small-government’ rhetoric through to its logical conclusion in this area.

    Jason’s ‘conspiracist’ post seems right on the money when examining the role of the dominant religious ‘cartels’ in civil society.

  • Baruch Dreamstalker

    As I understand it, the original idea was to make sure that every kid had someone to keep house and someone to bring in bread. In the upper classes, marriage distinguished legitimate (inheriting) from illegitimate (disinherited) offspring. Each is based on a notion of state interest that may not be libertarian but is pretty minimalist.

    I’m not defending the situation, just conveying what I recall.