Gay marriage debate heating up

07.31.03

The Vatican is saying that Jean Chretien will “burn in hell” for supporting granting the right to marry to gays and lesbians. I don’t pay Chretien compliments very often, but in this case it’s to his credit that, as a Catholic, he is choosing to do what’s right for the country and not succumb to this blatant kind of blackmail:

“As Prime Minister of Canada, [Chretien] has the moral responsibility to protect the equality of Canadians,” said Thoren Hudyma, a spokeswoman for the Prime Minister’s Office. “There needs to be a separation between the church and state.”

I guess Bush would be exempt from eternal damnation as he has come out against gay marriage in the US . . . except that Bush isn’t Catholic.

In the meantime, Damian Penny disagrees with me that religion should and can be separate from politics. He makes the argument that because politicians are people with their own moral codes, that they cannot separate the source of those moral codes from their daily decisions and actions in office:

I’ve heard this “you should keep your religion out of your politics” argument dozens of times (especially during the 2000 federal election campaign, when people believed Stockwell Day was going to take the vote away from women ‘n stuff), and it’s always stuck in my craw. It’s one thing to say politicians shouldn’t impose their religious beliefs upon others, but if you subscribe to a particular belief system, how on earth are you supposed to divorce yourself from it when the time comes to vote on a particular issue? Religious belief is not really something you can pick and choose whenever its convenient. Everybody has a moral compass of some kind (indeed, the lefties who usually squawk the loudest about “keeping morals out of politics” are the most dogmatic, doctrinaire people around when it comes to issues about which they feel strongly), and for many – perhaps most – people, it will be founded in some sort of religious belief. And I just don’t see how you can put it completely to one side when pondering a moral issue.

In response, I would argue that the notion that morality need be founded in religion is a wrong and dangerous one:

It’s more than possible to be a moral person without being a religious person, and without grounding your morality in religion (which is a fallacious and dangerous link to make, but I digress).

What George Bush is doing is taking his religious beliefs, which are supposed to be personal, and politicizing them by imposing his interpretation of religion on 250 million citizens, some of which may share his beliefs and many of which don’t.

Now you may say, how is that any different than a president saying “my moral code says it’s wrong to kill, so I’m going to pass a law forbidding murder”. But it is different. There are concrete, natural reasons why it’s wrong to kill (a priori) that need not be based on a faith-based religious doctrine. It’s wrong to kill because fellow human beings have a right to life and killing causes grievous harm.

But to say that’s it’s “wrong” for gays to have the right to get married, just because of blind faith in religion, well, that has no place whatsoever in politics. Nobody’s telling Bush to be gay or to marry a guy. But if he’s going to tell all Americans that they can’t do it, he ought to have a damn good reason, and “my religion says so” just doesn’t cut it.

Damian responded by saying that religious codes of morality were the source for most of our secular notions on morality:

This does beg the question, where did the concept of a “right to life” arise in the first place? Most religions have a clear prohibition against killing other people (although, as everyone from the Inquisitors to Hamas illustrate, religious people will find no shortage of loopholes allowing them to get around this inconvenient rule), and that’s why murder was taboo long before secular philosophical arguments against killing gained popular currency. This is another area where politics and religion cannot be completely separated.

I think that is a powerful and persuasive argument that merits a response. I also think it’s wrong.

Rather than discuss this at length here, I’ll direct interested parties to this link to a philosophy paper I wrote on the subject. I’d post excerpts but in my egotistical opinion it’s better if you read the whole thing.

And for anyone who isn’t yet asleep, further reading can be found here, here, and here, among other places.

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