Samuel Johnson on Same Sex Marriage

I was very happy to see that Vermont legalized same sex marriage, although of course, some people are very unhappy. There are three arguments against same-sex marriage, summarized thusly:

1) God hates it.

2) It’s against thousands of years of tradition.

3) It’ll ruin marriage for everyone else.

To which the effective ripostes are:

1) Actually, He told me in a dream that He’s all for it.

2) So was abolishing slavery, outlawing polygamy, and making women citizens, and those have worked out pretty well.

3) No, it won’t.

The last one, admittedly, is pretty weak, rhetorically speaking. But maybe that’s really all we need. I thought of Samuel Johnson’s famous riposte to Berkeley, as recounted by Boswell:

After we came out of the church, we stood talking for some time together of Bishop Berkeley’s ingenious sophistry to prove the non-existence of matter, and that every thing in the universe is merely ideal. I observed, that though we are satisfied his doctrine is not true, it is impossible to refute it. I never shall forget the alacrity with which Johnson answered, striking his foot with mighty force against a large stone, till he rebounded from it, ‘I refute it thus.”

I can refute this fear of same-sex marriage by pointing at the three same-sex couples who live on my block, raising kids, keeping up their houses, showing up at t-ball games, just like us, causing no harm and doing much good. I can refute it by pointing at the two most stable, longest-lasting, most loving couples I know, both raising children in wonderful homes: Bill and Christopher, and Malia and Margot. I can refute it by noting that even though we are practically surrounded by sodomites, my marriage is doing fine, and those marriages among our friends and neighbors that have ended… well, let’s just say if you had wanted to help them, you would have not so much worried about gay marriage, and instead banned attractive secretaries.

UPDATE: Welcome, Andrew Sullivan readers! It’s true, Andrew and I were at Harvard at the same time, and acted in plays together. When he was on our show, some years ago, I joked that I knew him before he was gay… he said, “Oh, no, Peter, I was just much more discreet.”

I’ve followed Andrew’s career closely since then (and remain an obsessive fan of his blog) and remember back in the 80s and 90s when he was a villain to the gay left… he disdained their demands for anti-discrimination laws, and their fierce insistence on cultural difference. Instead, he argued for — of all things — the right to marry. The most boring, constricting, and yes, conservative sexual choice of all.

He was right, of course, and in his impassioned Oxford-trained argumentation he helped found a civil rights movement that’s now reaching its moment of fruition. Because he saw that the essential civil right is not the right to be different — because difference, in this context, is the prerequisite assumption of bigotry — but the right to be the same.

I hope that someday, someone will erect a statue of Andrew Sullivan, gay rights pioneer. Maybe in front of a courthouse. Or at least, an impeccably charming little wedding chapel.

 UPDATE2: Thanks for all the comments… always a pleasure to foster a (mostly) civil discussion. Couple of responses to some comments:

 Keri takes me to task for dissing polygamy, when some of her best friends are…  well, yes, I got nothing against polyamory, people should be able to live the way they want to with however many people they want to. But historically (and not so historically) polygamy has been a form of enforced legal and sexual subservience for women, and we’re all better off that it’s no longer enshrined in law. I was also making a little dig at the “pro-marriage” forces who keep saying that throughout history, the most common form of marriage is between one man and one women. Actually, if you look at world history, the most common form of marriage was between one usually powerful, wealthy man and a number of women he more or less owned.

 And Ptown differs with me on Andrew Sullivan, saying he’s not the gay rights hero I say he is.  I’m neither gay or an activist or a historian of gay activism, but because I knew some of the players in gay politics (Andrew, Tony Kushner) and because I was in the theater and had a lot of gay friends, I paid pretty close attention to the debates of the late 80s and early 90s. If there was anybody else out there, arguing more effectively, or earlier, or in the face of more opposition, for the right to civil marriage, then I’d be happy to be educated on the topic. I would point out that many of the arguments made in these comments — that civil marriage is different from religious marriage, that religions should and will be free to make their own determinations as to whose marriages they consecrate, and most importantly, that same sex civil marriage is at heart a conservative cause, and should be embraced by social conservatives, were first made by Andrew. Am I wrong?

 

 

 

 

58 Responses to Samuel Johnson on Same Sex Marriage

  1. Eric Wolff April 8, 2009 at 12:01 pm #

    “surrounded by sodomites” will certainly be the name of my new band. Not that I have a band, but, you know, if I did.

    Otherwise, totally agree. Interesting to see what happens in D.C. with their congressional oversight.

  2. Molly B. April 8, 2009 at 12:11 pm #

    Amen! I don’t think I’ll ever stop being surprised by the extent to which religion is used as a grounds for reaffirming fears that keep people from a cohesive, civilized existence.

  3. Rob Holland April 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Nicely said. Very Sagalian. Attractive secretaries, indeed.

  4. Jim Felt April 8, 2009 at 12:12 pm #

    Well played, sir.

  5. Sherry April 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    I think with an argument as weak as #3 your riposte is more than adequate.

  6. Travis April 8, 2009 at 12:15 pm #

    Excellent article Peter…hopefully it won’t cause a backlash like it did in 04, however, with the Iowa courts ruling maybe we’re starting to see things turn.

  7. Metz April 8, 2009 at 12:22 pm #

    You sir, are right on all counts. Thank you!

  8. Brian Love April 8, 2009 at 12:23 pm #

    Your aphoristic responses to the criticisms of same-sex marriage are entertaining and effective. It is a wonderful thing when untenable positions can be revealed for what they are with candor and humor.

    Thanks!

  9. Conor April 8, 2009 at 12:42 pm #

    What a great read that made for! Thanks for taking what could have been a tiresome harangue and making it utterly delightful.

  10. Josh April 8, 2009 at 12:58 pm #

    A fourth response is that the state has no business defining marriage, nor in approving, allowing, or denying it in any form except through contractual civil union (in all cases, heterosexual, homosexual or otherwise).

    It seems to me that the issue we’re currently facing is one where both sides have some legitimate concerns. For many Christian churches, there’s a fairly legitimate fear of liability: “will I be sued if I don’t perform a homosexual marriage?” Sure, the law protects religious institutions now, but it’s a slippery slope. At the same time, the state has no authority to restrict rights to a certain class of people and deny it to another. Maybe it’s a naive argument (it certainly wouldn’t be the first) but what’s wrong with removing state-issued marriage across the board and leaving it at civil unions for all people. Why not leave the religious title of marriage to the religious and let them decide amongst themselves while still keeping equal rights through the state?

  11. Gus April 8, 2009 at 1:03 pm #

    Bravo.

  12. michaelrp April 8, 2009 at 1:09 pm #

    I can refute it by noting that there are only two people responsible for my marriage, and they are both in it.

  13. keite April 8, 2009 at 1:34 pm #

    All of what I’ve been saying all along is perfectly summed up in the last line. Thank goodness for your English degree.

  14. Chuck Long April 8, 2009 at 1:38 pm #

    Thanks a million for sharing your thoughts on same sex marriage. Your ripostes seem so simple, yet they are so profound. I love your final thought about banning attractive secretaries…dead on! Hopefully, we’ll all have equal rights one day. Hopefully, we’ll live and let live. Hopefully, we won’t judge and condemn. Hopefully.

  15. Carolyn April 8, 2009 at 1:47 pm #

    As the restaurant patron told the waiter, “Well done!”

  16. Dianna April 8, 2009 at 1:56 pm #

    In my family, I am one amongst 8 grandchildren (on the maternal side)

    In that group, 3 of the grandkids are married (me not included). Of the 3 that have gotten married, 2 are in the midst of divorce proceedings and both marriages involve children.

    Now, out of the 8 total grandkids, 2 of us are gay. Myself, and my younger male cousin.
    Both of us have been in the longest respective relationships out of ALL the grandkids. In fact, I think if you add up our collective years (8 for me and my partner, and 5 for him and his partner), I think we outdistance the remaining 6.

  17. Nick April 8, 2009 at 2:37 pm #

    The one thing I love about that Spectator link is all the banner ads with shirt-less muscle men. Nothing goes better with your anti-gay rhetoric extreme close-ups of men’s pecs.

  18. Courtney April 8, 2009 at 2:38 pm #

    Right on, my friend. As an Iowan, I’m also hearing a lot of the anti-gay-marriage rhetoric around here. Most of it revolves around the Bible, and, curiously, the welfare of children in general. What about the children? I’m not sure exactly what that’s supposed to mean, as children aren’t allowed to get married anyway. :)

  19. Molly B. April 8, 2009 at 2:44 pm #

    By the by, this is what the wonderful National Organization for Marriage has been up to. http://www.nationformarriage.org/site/c.omL2KeN0LzH/b.5075663/k.A89C/Religious_Liberty.htm

  20. KevDog April 8, 2009 at 3:25 pm #

    I’ve often said that the only threat to my marriage is my own stupidity. Who the people around the neighborhood are sleeping with has no bearing on it whatsoever.

  21. Greg April 8, 2009 at 3:31 pm #

    That NR editorial made me angry–first, with its deceptiveness about the legal rights that gay & lesbian couples *don’t* have–notably hospital visitation rights, spousal privilege (not being forced to testify against the person you love in a court of law), and the right to leave your partner money in your will safely, legally, and beyond challenge. Not to mention the ability to collect your partner’s financial benefits (social security, or job-related benefits that widows of cops get) if your partner dies an untimely death. How, exactly, does NR justify its opposition to these things? Beyond, you know, rank bigotry?

    The other part was how rabidly insulting it was towards childless couples. If a married couple chooses not to have children, should they be forcibly divorced? What about a couple where one of the partners is infertile? Is that couple less worthy of praise than a child-bearing one? Do they have a substandard marriage?

  22. Shannon April 8, 2009 at 3:32 pm #

    Josh wrote: “the law protects religious institutions now, but it’s a slippery slope.” Maybe I’m wrong, but if I understand correctly, as far as the law is concerned, there is no CHURCH that marries people; only ministers (as individuals) marry people, exactly the same that any county official or ‘justice of the peace’ marries people. (Or in my case, my best friend, who got deputized by my county government to conduct my marriage.) And NOWHERE is there any law that forces any minister, or anyone else, to officiate a legal marriage ceremony that they don’t want to officiate (except for perhaps a government employee as part of his/her job duties). So this whole religious freedom argument seems to be complete nonsense. There was one case in New Jersey where a religious organization owned a venue that was popular for weddings, and I think they may have been forced (under discrimination law) to accommodate a gay couple who happened to be planning a wedding there. But no church (or minister) will ever be forced to marry people against their will. It’s just one of many scare tactics that gay rights opponents continue to use.

  23. John April 8, 2009 at 3:38 pm #

    To that “It’ll ruin marriage for everyone else” argument. You’re being generous – it’s such a boneheaded idea that it doesn’t even merit a response. It seems to imply that all married guys are barely holding on to this whole “heterosexual” thing, and they’ll all turn into wild-eyed cornholers at the slightest provocation.
    I have to admit, I can think of a few married guys who make that prospect a nice daydream. But it doesn’t work that way.

  24. Chris April 8, 2009 at 3:43 pm #

    Let’s make a deal.
    I’ll continue to enthusiastically support the right to gay marriage.
    And you’ll drop all that talk about banning attractive secretaries.

  25. Charlie April 8, 2009 at 3:46 pm #

    As the wonderful Wanda Sykes said: “If you don’t like gay marriage, don’t marry a gay person.”

  26. Rip April 8, 2009 at 3:53 pm #

    Marriage has been a secular institution for a long time now. For nonreligious people, there’s nothing religious about it. The fact that the word has some sort of religious meaning for some people doesn’t mean the government shouldn’t continue to use the word in a secular sense, as it has for centuries.

    The “slippery slope” argument strikes me as fatuous. I think it’s wrong to advocate banning things you ostensibly have no problem with under the theory that they might, one day, encourage people to advocate something that you do have a problem with. If you’re against forcing churches to marry homosexual couples, say so, but don’t forbid civil marriages on the basis of that inchoate fear. It’s like outlawing sex toys because you fear they’ll lead to marrying robots. Each quandary should be dealt with on its own merits, not by free-association.

  27. Corinne April 8, 2009 at 4:08 pm #

    Josh, the state has never forced churches to perform marriages they didn’t want to perform. If I had gone to a Catholic church and asked to be married to my husband they would have told us no – because I’m not Catholic, I don’t believe what Catholics believe, and I won’t promise to raise my kids Catholic. If I had gone to the Church of LDS and asked to be married to my husband, they would have told me no, because I don’t share their beliefs, I don’t follow their religion, and I don’t meet their requirements. I’m not sure why a gay couple would want to be married by a religious official who didn’t support their union anyway. There are plenty of pastors who have performed commitment ceremonies for gay couples even thought they couldn’t be legally married, they’ll probably be okay with performing marriages for gay couples as well.

  28. Dan April 8, 2009 at 4:11 pm #

    You’re right! And for that you win our prize: Carl Kasell’s voice on your home answering device!

  29. Varda April 8, 2009 at 4:20 pm #

    Re: “if you had wanted to help them, you would have not so much worried about gay marriage, and instead banned attractive secretaries.” How about banning misogyny?

  30. Mary April 8, 2009 at 4:29 pm #

    Excellent!

    To Josh, who said the churches have a legitimate concern about being sued for discrimination, I think that’s a straw argument. They enjoy (as they should) broad protection under the first amendment. Moreover, there is no individual or group right to marriage in any particular church. Just ask a divorced person who would like to get remarried in a Catholic church!

  31. Nat G. April 8, 2009 at 4:38 pm #

    The alternative to allowing the state to marry people whom a given religious institution may not wish to marry (thus risking a lawsuit) would be to only allow marriages that -every- church would be willing to marry. Given that some churches only marry a couple that are both within their sect, this would leave no marriages. So no, we cannot use that as a reason for stopping marriages.

    And if attractive secretaries are outlawed, only outlaws will have attractive secretaries. And some (just some) of the attractive secretaries I’ve known would like that.

  32. Josh April 8, 2009 at 5:09 pm #

    Wow, didn’t expect so much flak for a comment.

    The slippery slope argument certainly stands, as I referred to it, as a CONCERN. The problem, of course, being whether or not churches are allowed to discriminate based on gender orientation. That is currently protected under the first amendment, but it is concerning to many pastors who are worried that there will be an out-lash against religious discrimination, and thus lawsuits.

    I certainly never said anything about “the church” as a whole being against gay marriage, certainly you’ve all been witnesses to many churches who not only support the idea but who would readily perform the ceremonies. I am simply asserting that marriage has been around, as a religious institution, longer than the “state” has given people into marriage. If you’re concerned about equal RIGHTS, why not let it go back to what it was and have the state involved in what it should be: civil union, legal partnership. CLEARLY this does not hinder the goals of those supporting gay marriage (unless the goal is something other than equal rights…) and it allows for compromise to the religious. CERTAINLY it’s not favorable to the religious to lose state protection of the definition of marriage (most would disagree with me to keep the state protection). It seems favorable to all sides, however, to meet in the middle to protect the rights of gays on one side, and prevent loss of rights for the religious on the other. For the record, I did not once speak against gay marriage, keep that in mind as you try to defend it against arguments that are clearly not attacking it.

  33. Josh April 8, 2009 at 5:14 pm #

    Also, note that I’m advocating that the state give equal rights in civil unions, meaning even heterosexual couples receive civil unions and NOT state marriage.

  34. Philip April 8, 2009 at 5:53 pm #

    A lovely piece, Peter, very well said. I’ve been trying to keep up with Andrew’s blogging, too. (Also, as one of the early casualties among the friends you mention, let me add that I only *wish* an attractive secretary had been involved…) It’s worth adding that the whole religious argument is — or at least should be — a red herring. In this day and age, paying proper attention to separation of church and state, the religious institution of marriage should have as little to do with the civil institution as a baptism or bris has to do with the public education system.

  35. Esther April 8, 2009 at 8:13 pm #

    That was great! One of the things that really burns me is this idea that “the people should vote.” Uh, that’s how we got “separate but equal” thrown out, right? Popular votes by all the Southern states? Puhleeze. It’s demeaning that anyone’s civil rights should be put up to a vote.

    I agree with you – my gay and lesbian friends who are in committed relationships are among the most loving, caring and decent people I know. Allowing them to marry hurts no one. It only strengthens our society, just as extending equal rights to African-Americans did a half-century ago.

    I listen to your show all the time and never knew you had a blog!

  36. Sue April 8, 2009 at 8:24 pm #

    I always find it an interesting argument when people say that marriage is a religious sacrament as opposed to a civil union. In America, it very much began as a civil affair. And, in fact, remains so. See this about the first marriage to take place in the New World:

    In his book, Mayflower, Nathaniel Philbrick wrote that “Edward (Winslow) and Susanna (White) were married in a civil ceremony. (William) Bradford, who presided over the union, explained that ‘nowhere…in the Gospel’ did it say a minister should be involved in a wedding. In the decades to come, marriages in Plymouth continued to be secular affairs, one of the few vestiges of their time in Holland to persist in New England.”

    Marriage without the church is perfectly legal. Marriage inside the church may be sanctified but it’s not legal till the state provides the license. In short, I see no place for religious arguments here.

    A Proud Vermonter

  37. Tom April 8, 2009 at 8:55 pm #

    Great comments, Peter! Yeah, the claim that same-sex marriage will ultimately destroy the institution of marriage is preposterous. Still, marriage equality won’t necessarily translate to cultural, social or religious approbation for gay couples. The only thing to count on is legal protection, and that’s precisely what the courts and legislatures are concerned about. The National Organization of Marriage should take the high ground and join the fight for legal protections for same-sex couples; at the same time, they should start a drive to convert all civil marriages to civil unions and leave marriage to the churches. By doing so, they would minimize the whole issue and we could get on to other important matters like health care, economic recovery and serious immigration reform.

  38. Chowder April 8, 2009 at 10:33 pm #

    Wow, I just love finding new blogs to pursue….linked here through Sullivan’s site….I like what I see so far…..will be back frequently to see what’s going down!

  39. ptown April 9, 2009 at 5:24 am #

    To say that Andrew Sullivan “founded” anything in the gay rights movement ignores decades of work that laid the groundwork for today. No surprise that a fellow Harvard student would overstate one’s achievements, but c’mon. On the whole I think Andrew has done a lot of good. But he didn’t “found” anything but his own career that has happened to arc nicely now that he stopped being, as he put it, “discreet” while others were climbing the ramparts and risking their lives and social standing.

  40. Carriep April 9, 2009 at 5:38 am #

    For those who want to listen to the Andrew Sullivan “Not My Job” interview from “Wait, Wait” (like I did), It was the May 12, 2001 episode. I’ve dug up the link.

    http://www.npr.org/programs/waitwait/archrndwn/2001/may/010512.waitwait.html

    It’s saved in Real Player, though.

  41. Courtney April 9, 2009 at 10:12 am #

    Very sad, but predictable…Republicans are trying to get an amendment to the Iowa Constitution to ban gay marriage. Luckily, they’re in the minority.

  42. Keri April 9, 2009 at 12:30 pm #

    Outlawing polygamy? I also have neighbors who show up to their kids’ t-ball games, causing no harm and doing much good. They are in a polyamorous relationship and doing just fine, and I am in a heterosexual marriage and doing just fine. They’re not ruining marriage for me, although outlawing polygamy is pretty much causing them the same pain as outlawing gay marriage for my gay friends.

    Abolishing slavery and making women citizens? Yes, that worked out very well.

  43. PaulMcG April 9, 2009 at 1:20 pm #

    I’m another regular Dish reader (one of the 3 who has not see the South Park movie) and a regular Wait Wait listener and am dumbfounded that it never occured to me that Peter would have a blog. Perhaps it’s because I listen to NPR so much that I don’t have internet access from home – yet. I now have a new source for edutainment. And I howled at the “surrounded by sodomites” as band name idea!

  44. Gretchen April 9, 2009 at 6:40 pm #

    Love the show! And love the article. I continue to be amazed (appalled) at the vitriolic nature of some of the anti-gay-marriage arguments. And I find it so ironic that the very segment of the population (conservative, religious right, i.e.) that condemned gays for our alleged promiscuity in the ’60s and ’70s is the same segment now condemning us for our desire to have legally recognized partnerships. In other words, we’ve basically been told that we’re bad because we won’t partner up and we’re bad when we do. It just confirms my feeling that the “anti-gays” would prefer that we didn’t exist at all. Barring that, the best they can do is attempt to relegate us to the status of second-class citizen by condemning our (largely unsubstantiated) behavior or restricting our rights. I hope my partner and I are around long enough to see this question become a non-issue. In the meantime, thanks for the good and kind and fair assessment of the situation. It is heartening.

  45. Bill Fenstermaker April 10, 2009 at 4:00 am #

    I’ve said for years that I’d prefer that government retracted any/all “benefits, “perks,” and/or “recognition” for any married people.

    Doesn’t the recognition of marriage as something special by government, in effect, treat single people as “unequal?”

  46. Dave von Ebers April 10, 2009 at 8:45 am #

    Josh, I don’t mean to pile on or ridicule your “slippery slope” comment in anyway, but I will add this. I’ve been practicing law over 20 years and I simply cannot see how religious institutions could be adversely affected by laws granting equal marriage rights to gays and lesbians. Religious institutions have always been able to set their own standards for marriage. A Catholic priest can refuse to marry a couple if one of them is a divorcee; a minister or rabbi could refuse to perform a wedding ceremony if they deem the couple to be too young or immature for marriage, even though they are over the age of consent. And, in the Catholic Church in particular, a couple has to agree to accept children as a condition of marriage. (Not that anyone actually tries to enforce that obligation, of course; but you have to say so as a part of the wedding ceremony – if you refused to say so, a priest would be well within his rights to refuse to marry you.) (Which reminds me of an old “Monty Python” skit – “Nigel, what are you doing married to this man!?”)

    Anyway, what I’m really getting at is this: In this country, we are far more protective of religion generally and religious institutions in particular than most countries on the planet, and I think those legal protections are so deeply entrenched in our system that we can be reasonably certain that religious institutions will be immune from any type of legal liability for advocating against “gay marriage” or refusing to marry gay and lesbian couples. That’s their loss, in my view, but the law protects their right to be wrong on this and many other issues, and it’s hard to see how that could change. Not without amending the Constitution, anyway.

    By the way, I love Andrew Sullivan … though he aggravates the hell out of me at times. Perhaps that’s all the more reason why I love him.

  47. schmutzie April 10, 2009 at 9:30 pm #

    This website is being featured on Five Star Friday:
    http://www.fivestarfriday.com/2009/04/five-star-friday-edition-49.html

  48. Josh April 11, 2009 at 8:20 am #

    Dave,

    I appreciate your response and your demeanor, but I think I’m in good company saying that our government has done a piss-poor job of protecting at least three of our Constitutional rights over the last eight years. I’m sure the vast majority of us don’t think Obama would continue the trend, but it’s certainly a concern in the sense that places selling coffee have to warn you that it’s hot. I’m not meaning to be belligerent, and I can see how my position might seem so, but there are a helluva lot of angry people out there on both sides of the debate who would do just about anything to force the issue in their favor. The fear for many in the church who don’t want the government to deny rights is that in the process they’ll still end up on the wrong side of the gun and be brought into legal issues. Yes, there is a long history of protections, especially witnessed as you mention by the Catholic church. However, as has already been mentioned in the comments, there is precedence where a church (Ocean Grove Camp Meeting Assoc.) has been sued for discrimination by denying a gay couple rights to marry on their property and lost. In this case, the church in question lost it’s ability to protect it’s own facility. Some churches are concerned that some of the more aggressive groups would force the issue, taking them to court. Given the precedence set in the CMA case, who knows where the decision will end up. I’m not saying it will happen, but there is fair reason for concern given the last decade worth of court rulings and loss of Constitutional rights (like Bush’s warrant-less wire taps and detaining non-combatants without trial).

  49. Jeffrey April 12, 2009 at 8:26 am #

    Canada’s had gay marriage for some time now, and as far as I can tell, nothing in Canadian life has changed for the worse.

  50. Glenn Fleishman April 14, 2009 at 12:05 pm #

    Marriage is a malleable institution, and anyone stating, “It’s against thousands of years of tradition,” would also likely be saying that English should be the official language of American because that’s what Jesus spoke.

    Seriously, there’s a long tradition of same-sex marriages, multi-partner marriages, and all kinds of property-based marriages long long long before the one man/one woman in love idea of modern Western culture.

  51. Kristin April 16, 2009 at 3:50 pm #

    Peter,

    Love the show, love the blog, endlessly amused by the twitter. Great post, and thanks for allowing comments on such a hotly contested issue.

    Josh,

    I hope you’ll consider me another person in the discussion rather than someone ganging up on you. I’d like to give context to the Ocean Grove discrimination case. The church to which you refer (the OGCMA) owned property that was tax-exempt not because it was church grounds but as part of New Jersey’s Green Acres Program (GAP). This document (PDF, 12 pages, hopefully these comments support HTML tags…) from the New Jersey attorney general’s office is incredibly helpful. To summarize, the OGCMA rented the Boardwalk Pavilion to the public and allowed full, free public access (excluding smoking, skateboarding, and biking) whenever an event was not underway. While some services were held in the Pavilion in summer, the OGCMA did not generally use the Pavilion as a place of worship. The Pavilion is not afforded the first amendment rights afforded a house of worship simply because it is not a house of worship.

    I understand how it looks like a slippery slope from church-owned property to an actual church building — indeed, I thought so until I read the above document — but the only reason the discrimination was ruled unlawful was that the terms of the Green Acres Program explicitly state that GAP space must be open to the public “on an equal basis” (PDF, 7 pages, see section 7.35-1.4 (a)). The church agreed to these conditions in their application to the GAP. Furthermore, the OGCMA lost tax-exempt status only for the Beachfront Pavilion. Greater than 99% of their property, including both public and place of worship, retained its tax-exempt status (New York Times). The church did not lose any rights; it suffered the consequences of breaking the terms of the GAP agreement.

    Here’s the general point: if a church-owned building is primarily used as a place of worship but is also used for public functions, then it is protected under the Constitution and may legally discriminate. If a church-owned building is primarily used for public functions but is occasionally used as a place of worship, then it is not protected and must abide by all applicable anti-discrimination laws.

    I realize that there is a concern that a religious group might be sued for discrimination in their house of worship. Someone will probably try it. But there is no precedent for such a case to stand up in court, and the rights of the religious group are clearly covered by the First Amendment. I agree that the government has trampled a number of our rights in recent history, but it has all been under the guise of protection against attacks. Legal discrimination by a religion doesn’t even remotely fit that category. I think I understand where you’re coming from, but I see no threat to freedom of religion here.

  52. J. Peterson April 20, 2009 at 5:44 pm #

    Well you have it all wrong. Your dream is interesting but not excepting your dream over Gods Word in the bible. Marriage is between a Man and a Woman. Its not traditional its how God made it. Its Adam and Eve NOT Adam and Steve. Folks it Gods will not ours.

  53. Roy "Vibraters and More" Kimar October 18, 2009 at 4:43 am #

    @Peterson

    Jeeze, you actually trotted out “Adam and Steve”? Are you some strawman posting sarcastically for a joke or something? You sound so much like a caricature of right-wing nuts I can’t even think of a proper response.

  54. Roger Klorese June 27, 2011 at 11:22 am #

    The jury is definitely still out on whether marriage equality was the appropriate priority. Fundamental rights that are needed by all no matter their marital status — the right to housing and employment — are still unprotected. Never mind the fact that we have given up the potential for getting beyond rigid definitions of family — never mind the fact that we have given true reform in benefits a pass in order by adding a small set of people to the plan, instead of basing health care and other benefits based on the will and definitions of those receiving the benefits — we are now happy to see people living in the street and unemployed as long as they are free to go through some social rite. Priorities are seriously wacky.

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  1. Making it Simple « Paul Richardson - April 8, 2009

    [...] April 8, 2009 Peter Sagal sums up the whole gay marriage thing quite easily.  If only common sense reigned… I was very happy to see that Vermont legalized same sex marriage, although of [...]

  2. The Right and Same-Sex Marriage « Deanna’s Ramblings - April 9, 2009

    [...] going to paste in a post from Peter Sagal that summarizes all this so well (another hat tip: Andrew [...]

  3. Revisiting Same Sex Marriage « Di Mortui Sunt - April 9, 2009

    [...] I’ve been thinking about the arguments against Same Sex Marriage as well and I agree with Peter Sagal, who lumped them into 3 groups:  It is against God’s law, it is against tradition, and [...]

  4. pligg.com - April 10, 2009

    Samuel Johnson on Same Sex Marriage

    Brilliant Peter Sagal on counters the arguments against gay marriage, and a little tribute to Andrew Sullivan too.

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