We all know the game. It’s called CHEAT in Britain, BULLSHIT in the U.S. (or sometimes, in more restrained circles, I DOUBT IT). You start with a standard pack of 52 cards. You deal out all the cards and then take turns discarding–the first player starts by discarding aces, then the second player discards twos, the next player, threes, etc. Cards are discarded face down and the player announces how many of that particular card they’re laying down. Players are free to bluff (in fact, that’s the point of the game). If a player suspects that another player is bluffing, he (or she) blurts out BULLSHIT (or the equivalent) and the discarded cards are exposed. If the player is caught bluffing, then he picks up the entire discard pile and play resumes. If the accuser is incorrect, then he (or she) picks up the discard pile. Play continues until a player discards all of his or her cards (and survives a challenge, if any, on his or her final play).
It’s a fun game. At least it looks fun in the movie How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days (starring Kate Hudson & Matthew McConaughey). If you haven’t seen the movie, it’s not bad–and there’s a great scene of a family game of BULLSHIT.
So let’s play the game in another context–the context of the same-sex marriage debate. I’m going to pick on the Mormon church because I’m Mormon, although this argument has been utilized in various forms by nearly every conservative denomination that opposes same-sex marriage.
The following excerpt is from an address by a Mormon apostle, Russell M. Nelson, to a group of church members in Boston, Massachusetts, on June 10, 2010:
“If civil law were altered to recognize so-called “same-gender” marriage, you as believers in God, and keepers of His commandments, would then be regarded as exceptions to the rule. Your conscientious convictions would then be regarded as discriminatory. If you were a Christian school teacher, you could be charged with bigotry for upholding the Lord’s law of chastity. In truth dear brothers and sisters, if you lose marriage, you also lose freedom of religion. Atheistic moral bedlam and religious repression go hand in hand. At stake is our ability to transmit to the next generation the life-giving and inseparable culture of marriage and the free exercise of religion.”
Here is a link to a more thorough summary: http://newsroom.lds.org/blog/2010/06/apostle-talks-religious-freedom-to-boston-youth.html.
So, let’s play.
If civil law were altered to recognize so-called “same-gender” marriage, you as believers in God, and keepers of His commandments, would then be regarded as exceptions to the rule.
Let’s break this down. If civil law is changed to accommodate same-sex marriage, then those who hold religious beliefs that differ from civil law will be regarded as “exceptions to the rule.” All right. Fair enough. I’m not sure what he means by “exceptions to the rule,” but I’m guessing that he means that religious folks: 1) may hold views that differ from civil law, 2) that these differences may be obvious to observers, and 3) believers will therefore be viewed as “exceptions” to general norms. This seems straight forward enough. I have Jewish friends that are kosher–they are certainly ”exceptions to the general rule.” Mormons don’t drink coffee (or at least “good” Mormons don’t)–they’re ”exceptions to the general rule.”
It turns out that people believe all sorts of things that aren’t reflected in the civil code. There are still “whites-only” country clubs (e.g. http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/8618572). There are white supremacist groups (e.g. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/White_Aryan_Resistance; click here for a list of groups). There are numerous examples of people and institutions that hold beliefs that do not correspond with the civil code. There are numerous examples of “exceptions to the rule.”
Back to the main argument–if the civil code is changed to accommodate same-sex marriage, then the Mormon belief that same-sex marriage is inherently wrong will no longer be reflected in the law, and the Mormon church would, along with numerous other conservative denominations, became ”exceptions to the rule” for continuing to hold such beliefs. Okay, I think we’re good to this point. I’m not sure where he’s going, but I think I follow his argument so far.
Your conscientious convictions would then be regarded as discriminatory.
Hmm. Okay. But what’s the point here? I already think–and so do a lot of other people–that opposing same-sex marriage is discriminatory. Whether it’s part of the civil code or not doesn’t really matter. Some people believe that abortion is murder. Whether or not it’s legal doesn’t change people’s opinions. I have quite a few friends that believe drinking coffee is sinful. So what? The point is the civil code isn’t designed to reflect particular religious beliefs–nor should it be. I believe that “whites-only” country clubs are an embarrassment and a disgrace–but that doesn’t necessarily mean they should be illegal.
I agree that if cultural norms shift to accommodate same-sex marriage, then those that insist on labeling same-sex relationships as immoral or sinful will be viewed as “discriminatory.” It’s the same with folks that insist on using the “N” word–it might have been okay 50 years ago in certain company, but it’s not okay today. So if cultural norms shift and we (Mormons, religious conservatives, etc.) don’t alter our beliefs in lock-step, we risk being labeled “discriminatory.” But I’m calling BULLSHIT on the connection between changes in civil law and whether or not we are labeled “discriminatory.” What matters are cultural norms and beliefs–if those shift and we don’t, then we’ll be called “discriminatory.” Whether or not the law is changed is mostly irrelevant–it’s the shift in cultural norms and beliefs that matters.
If you were a Christian school teacher, you could be charged with bigotry for upholding the Lord’s law of chastity.
BULLSHIT. This has very little to do with the same-sex marriage debate. Let’s make a short list of the things a “Mormon” school teacher can’t do:
1) Teach kids that they are sinning against God if they have premarital sex,
2) Teach kids that if they masturbate, they are sinning against God,
3) Teach kids that interracial marriage is sinning against God,
4) Teach kids that drinking coffee is sinning against God, etc.
It would be very easy to list 50 things that a “Mormon” school teacher shouldn’t be teaching. I’ve narrowed this to a “Mormon” school teacher, but the argument is the same for a “Christian” school teacher. The “Christian” school teacher should not be teaching his or her pupils to worship Jesus, pay tithing, abstain from premarital sex, etc. The reasons for this are obvious–schools are public institutions and should not be used as a forum for private religious beliefs. If you’re a Christian, would you want your daughter’s second grade Muslim teacher discussing passages from the Koran in the classroom?
It doesn’t matter whether or not the civil code is changed to accommodate same-sex marriage, I don’t want my kids’ teachers sharing their personal religious beliefs. It doesn’t matter whether or not those religious beliefs pertain to premarital sex, masturbation, tithing, coffee, Twinkies, or homosexuality. It’s inappropriate.
So, right now, today, if you are a “Christian” teacher and you walk into a classroom and tell your pupils that premarital sex is wrong because God says so, you will probably get fired (and you should). The assertion that if same-sex marriage were legal, this would suddenly change is BULLSHIT. “Christian” teachers are already prevented (fortunately) from teaching the “Lord’s law of chastity” in the classroom.
In truth dear brothers and sisters, if you lose marriage, you also lose freedom of religion.
BULLSHIT. I’m not even sure what this means. Mormons believe that drinking alcohol is a sin. There was a time when this was reflected in the civil code (during Prohibition). When Prohibition ended–i.e. when the civil code was amended to accommodate the consumption of alcohol–did we lose our freedom of religion? The Civil Rights Act of 1964 banned discrimination in hotels, motels, restaurants, theaters, and all other public accommodations–did white supremacists lose their right to promote their beliefs? Did “whites-only” country clubs lose their ability to discriminate? Both white supremacists groups and “whites-only” country clubs are doing just fine (unfortunately). There are robust freedom of religion (and freedom of association) protections that maintain enough space for private beliefs and practices. What is being debated in the case of same-sex marriage is ”public” accommodation. We are debating how to make a public institution as fair, open, and as inclusive as public institutions should be.
It is ironic that this address was delivered in Massachusetts. Here is a quote from a Facebook discussion: “Marriage equality has been law in Massachusetts for five years now. Numbers of forced gay weddings in the [Mormon temple in Boston]: Zero. Number of [Mormon] leaders arrested in Massachusetts for preaching church doctrine on homosexuality: Zero.”
The idea that accommodating same-sex marriage in the civil code is going to undermine freedom of religion is a very difficult argument to make–and it has very little, if any, grounding in historical precedent or contemporary reality. It is an argument designed to scare people–to make them feel personally threatened–so they’ll support particular policies.
Last two sentences:
Atheistic moral bedlam and religious repression go hand in hand. At stake is our ability to transmit to the next generation the life-giving and inseparable culture of marriage and the free exercise of religion.”
Complete BULLSHIT. It is discouraging to see these kinds of arguments from a respected church leader–a church leader that I suspect (or at least I hope) knows better. I’m not sure what “atheistic moral bedlam” is exactly, but it sounds scary. Is it “atheistic moral bedlam” to give individuals the opportunity to participate in a legally-binding public institution that allows them to commit to mutual support and companionship in loving, long-term relationships? What I wish would go hand-in-hand (but rarely seems to these days) is the profession of Christian beliefs and the actual practice of the kind of unconditional acceptance, tolerance, and love that Jesus exemplified.
Let’s focus on the last sentence. In a previous post on same-sex marriage (see http://wisdomlikeastone.com/04/05/seven-dumb-arguments/), I talked about a friend that made a similar argument. My friend claimed that his freedom to identify same-sex relationships as “unnatural” or “wicked” would be undermined by the legalization of same-sex marriage. He makes a good point. After all, his freedom to use terms like “darkie” or “jigaboo” or “spear-chucker” has already been severely constrained by progressive social norms, so taking away his ability to use the term “rump-ranger” in the checkout line at the local grocer may break him. Maybe with a little prayer and fasting, he’ll accept the societal yoke of mutual respect and common decency? There’s always hope, anyway.
The argument made in the last sentence is almost identical to the argument made by my friend. The general idea is that we need to be able to teach our kids that homosexuality is wicked and sinful (regardless of the immediate human cost), otherwise we may not be able to pass down the “inseparable” institutions of marriage and religion. First, the institutions of marriage and religion aren’t inseparable (in Europe, for example–marriage is a civil institution that is almost entirely divorced from the practice of religion–and it’s doing just fine). Second, intolerance and discrimination are not essential ingredients for either marriage or religion. At least I hope not.
Let’s expect better from our religious leaders. And if we don’t get it, let’s not be afraid to call BULLSHIT. It’s a fun game, regardless of the context.