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.