Slessarev-Jamir on the Rhetorical Artifice of Religious Conservatives on the Gay Marriage Question

Helene Slessarev-Jamir (Claremont Lincoln University School of Theology) has posted Religious Conservatives’ Success in Constructing Gay Marriage as a Threat to Religious Liberties.  Rather than posting the abstract, which you can see simply by clicking on the link, it may be more helpful to post some selections from this short but intensely felt paper.  Those selections follow.

In this country, an exclusivist, patriarchal construction of religion has positioned itself as the principal crusader against the legalization of gay marriage by essentially claiming the gays and lesbians are not created in God’s image. Yet, the role of religion in the on-going debate is complexified by the gradual emergence of alternate, inclusive religious voices that publicly support gay marriage . . . .

Conservative religious strategists have won their campaigns against marriage equality by raising the specter of possible infringements against the religious liberties of those families, individuals, and institutions that oppose gay marriage were state governments to grant legal status to gay marriage. In the US, the defense of heterosexual couples’ religious liberties has become the principal trope in the campaigns against the right to same sex marriage, thereby legitimating the defense of traditional marriage by claiming that it is the embodiment of an ideal that many Americans perceive as sacrosanct. Thus, a vote to maintain discriminatory laws against same sex couples by denying them the right to marry is effectively recast as a patriotic defense of American liberty and freedom of belief, both of which are regarded as sacred values rooted in this nation’s founding principles . . . .

When a religious liberties argument is used to justify discrimination against same sex couples within clearly established public contexts, religious liberties arguments are likely to lose since religion has not been found to be a legitimate justification for biased behavior in those circumstances.  On the other hand, the right to define the character of religious worship or church membership is constitutionally beyond the regulatory authority of the states.  Thus, religious institutions that wish to exclude certain groups of people from access to their facilities will need to publicly state those restrictions, thereby outing their institutional homophobia . . . .

Despite, the intentionally broad appeal of the public messaging emanating from religious opponents of gay marriage, at the core of their objections lays an adherence to a set of interpretations of their foundational religious texts that elevate patriarchal family structures above all others as having been ordained by God himself . . . .

It is true that at the core of the debate over legalizing same sex marriage are two very different understandings of human nature and the role of the state within democratic societies. While secular people view humans as essentially rational, conservative Christians understand humans through the lens of origin sin, which leaves every person flawed and in need of regulation by the Church, working in conjunction with the state.

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