Are Gay Rights More Akin to Civil Rights or Religious Rights?

Monday, March 25, 2013

Gay Marriage (Getty Images)

This week, the U.S. Supreme Court will consider two gay marriage cases.

Tomorrow, they hear arguments on Hollingsworth v. Perry, a case that centers on the state constitutional amendment prohibiting same-sex marriages in California — also known as Proposition 8. A federal appeals court ruled it unconstitutional in 2012, but supporters are asking for the Supreme Court to review the ruling.

On Wednesday, there's United States v. Windsor. This case challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act, adopted in 1996, which prohibits most federal benefits from going to gay married couples.

Reverend Oliver White is the pastor of Grace Community United Church of Christ, a predominantly black congregation in St. Paul, Minnesota. He announced his acceptance of same-sex marriage in 2005, when, at a United Church of Christ assembly, he voted in favor of a church resolution for gay marriage. He sees gay rights as akin to black civil rights.

But Ann Pellegrini disagrees. She is white and gay and says she does not think gay rights are the same as civil rights. As she sees it, they are more akin to religious rights and should be thought of as such. Pellegrini is associate professor of religious studies and director of the Center for the Study of Gender and Sexuality at New York University, as well as the author of "Love the Sin: Sexual Regulation and the Limits of Religious Tolerance."


Ann Pellegrini and Reverend Oliver White

Produced by:

Kristen Meinzer

Comments [14]

Richard L. Sypert Jr.

Marriage is the ultimate example of a religious or God-based institution. The origin or definition of marriage predates any recorded history (outside of the Bible) of government. The truth about the original design of the American government was that there was respect for the overall design of life by God or Providence that was superior to human government and a guide for the design of man's government. In America's foundation this design came from the Bible, not religion. America was designed actually to get away from organized religion prohibiting true worship of God according to the Bible. This was so much of the history of Europe for 100's of years, where in God's name the freedom to know and follow the Bible was suppressed. As the Declaration of Independence makes clear, the original freedoms of this nation were defined as coming straight from God and not through religious institution. I believe that you cannot really understand how American started if you do not realize that it was designed to get away from religious tyranny, but it was designed fully in support of freedom to follow the Bible in all spheres of life, whether private, social, or political. It was the case, and there still is evidence today, that the Bible itself was embedded in political institutions and practice. The US Constitution intended to prohibit religious tyranny, but not Biblical practice. The 1st Amendment also prohibits restricting(though you hardly ever hear it) the free exercise of religion in any sphere. You may find it hard to accept but the 1st Amendment was intended to restrict government from establishing religious tyranny against free exercise of religion, but not eliminating free-will exercise of religion. Ironically, when the government starts forming restrictions on free-will exercise of religion in any sphere, it is in fact contradicting the Constitution. Today some Americans want to eliminate God as the ultimate reason for things, but this truthfully is NOT how this country was designed. This is a historical fact for the honest mind. The history of this land of America is steeped in a dependency and desire for God's blessing and specifically the God of the Bible. This is so much the case it is still embedded in our national songs and political ceremony and the tradition of political speech. This last point is where there has been a lot a political contention over the traditions of invoking the God of the Bible most predominantly in political and social speech. This contention has arisen against what has been allowed and deeply entrenched in American practice, since the beginning of this nation. Again the honest mind cannot deny this. Furthermore, history and the present facts shows that a nation does not continue to exist for any significant period of time that contradicts God's fundamental designs of life in regards to marriage, but we know historically of many that have perished.

Apr. 01 2013 06:07 PM
Doug Keogh from Nashville TN

Being gay is no more unnatural than men's nipples and it is no more disruptive of society than being left handed.

Mar. 31 2013 11:32 AM
12-String Frank from Staten Island

I am not fond this term Same-Sex marriage. This is what the average does not understand. They think it is a straight man/woman marrying another straight man/woman. Which, of course, is ridiculous. This is what people believe to be unnatural. However, if term "Gay marriage" is applied, then it makes sense. Why? Because it is a gay person marrying another gay person. Once this is comprehended, the rest falls into place. It's about marriage rights for the Gay who are same-sex; not the heterosexuals.

Mar. 26 2013 05:15 PM

I don't see the parallel between an economic system that exploited Black labor and gay rights.Gays should be free to do whatever they want but it has nothing to do with the economic, political and social marginalization of Black people.

Mar. 25 2013 09:35 PM

Interesting piece which told me more about the ingenuity of the gay rights movement than civil rights or religious freedom. Here we have two advocates for gay marriage coming at it from different angles: an embarrassment of riches for gay marriage activists. If you can't win on the civil rights argument you can always resort to comparing same sex couples, and their lack of tax benefits, to churches and their tax exempt status.

In my opinion, gay marriage is a civil rights issue simply we discussing it as such. The legal sanctioning of gay marriage, however, is not legitimately justified by the 14th amendment equal protection clause. Why? Because everyone has the same equal INDIVIDUAL right to marry.

Comparing the supposed right of a hetero couple to a homosexual couple, to marry, is a twisted interpretation of what the marriage right. No couple has a rights associated with marriage without first exercising individual rights to enter into a committed relationship. Marriage requires consent from both parties. The right to marry is an individual right.

Now, as far as comparing religion to gay marriage. There seems to be some relevance here, though I would argue not in the way gay marriage proponents would argue. Tax, and other benefits, could be extended to same sex couples without redefining marriage. As we all know, however, the gay community is not interested in this and replies to the suggestion with "separate but equal is not constitutional". Doesn't apply because homosexual relationships are clearly different from opposite sex couples. We would not be talking about separate but equal but rather separate and different.

Mar. 25 2013 05:51 PM

Marriage is not a civil institution. It is a religious institution established under religious terms at least thousands of years ago. Later, governments chose to acknowlege and support marriage as good for society and to uphold this institution as the basis for forming families. (By the way Govts. make decisions to support certain institutions and not others all the time). I acknowlege this ideal has been corrupted by our selfish natures over many generations. However, to say that the religious laws which created the institution of marriage in the first place is not basis for marriage is in fact a re-definition of marriage.

Therefore, if the supreme court goes the next step in re-defining the traditional definition of marriage, it may be time for those who believe in this historic and traditional view of marriage to simply change the name of it to something else - "spiritual unions" perhaps? Then churches can stop performing "marriage cerimonies" all together and choose to only perform "spiritual unions" hopefully excluding them from the persecution they will face in choosing not to perform "marriage" ceremonies for same sex couples.

Mar. 25 2013 03:57 PM
Tim from Dallas, Texas

I agree with Ann Pellegrini, you can indeed change your sexuality (as you can your gender) over the course of a lifetime, just as you can change religions. I like to keep in mind that this is a legal argument so it is analogous to a religious right in the legal sense but is more of a human right where we as humans can live out our lives as we individually see fit as long as it doesn't harm others. Things change over time and we as human beings have a fundamental human right to change our vantage point as we pass through life, for me these positions include, but are not necessarily limited to sexuality, gender, religion and politics.

Mar. 25 2013 01:52 PM
craig c orlando from Florida

Interesting segment, which I mostly missed. For years I have felt that anti-same-sex-marriage laws violate both religion clauses of the First Amendment. Such laws establish one religious doctrine as law to the exclusion of other religious doctrines, namely that such marriage is appropriate; and such laws prohibit same-sex couples from enjoying the free exercise of their own religious beliefs. This issue should have been included in cases along with equal protection and discrimination claims, but was not.

Mar. 25 2013 01:02 PM
Nick_A from NY

"Tolerance and apathy are the last virtues of a dying society." Aristotle

The religious influence is essential to maintain the free society ideal America was founded upon. Simone Weil explains why:

"Humanism was not wrong in thinking that truth, beauty, liberty, and equality are of infinite value, but in thinking that man can get them for himself without grace."

Without the help of grace, society becomes the Beast referred to by Plato. The Beast is governed by power and force in the battle for prestige.

The ideal of traditional marriage is rare but its value lies in the appreciation of this idea. Traditional marriage represents the unification of male and female energies, yang and yin, so as to become closer to the Source and more human together. In turn, this union produces children receiving the "good" of this union.

Traditional marriage between male and female is one of several ideals necessary to be worked for and respected in order for a free society to remain free. The fact that this ideal is diminished into the secularism of the Beast, indicates America's potential for self governing freedom is lost.

The question isn't if one is against gay marriage but instead if one appreciates the unique value of the ideal of traditional marriage and if society supports it. It is being lost because the help of grace is no longer valued in a secular society so is rejected.

Of course freedom cannot be sustained under these circumstances so America as the potential for freedom initially intended has become a gradually dying society as Aristotle described.

All good things come to an end. Ecclesiastes 3 describes the natural cycles of life and death which pertain to societies as well as individuals. It's just the way nature works. Without the help of grace, nothing else is possible

Mar. 25 2013 11:52 AM
Ann P

Desiree from Park Slope -- RIGHT ON! Had there been more time today I would have said that (1) marriage is a civil contract and (2) as a matter of religious freedom (in particular, church-state separation), the state should not be in the business of picking and choosing which religious marriages it will recognize and legitimate as "real" civil marriages. That is what the state is currently doing. For example, when a Reformed Rabbi presides over a same-sex wedding in the state of Texas, the union is not recognized as a "real" marriage by the state. If that same Rabbi marries a heterosexual couple on that same day in that very same synagogue, the state does recognize it is a real marriage. This is wrong as a matter of civil rights and fairness but it is also a violation of church-state separation. The other thing that is vital to stress -- and in the short segment today there was not time to do so -- is that religious freedom in the US is supposed to mean the freedom to practice religion differently from the majority *as well as* the freedom to practice no religion at all. I have a big stake in this last point: I am an atheist who happens to think that queer people and straight people, too, can be moral and have values, including in the value-laden ways we make our intimate lives, without having to be religious. In trying to talk about sexuality and religion together, my own interest is in making public space for queer people and for our many straight allies (religious and non-) to start claiming our lives as valuable and good -- even as ways of life that do good in the world.

Mar. 25 2013 11:28 AM
Ed from Larchmont

I guess the bottom line is not whether it's good for society or not, but whether society judges this to be acceptable behavior or not.

Mar. 25 2013 10:52 AM
Ed from Larchmont

It's not that simple: for example, a Church that teaches that same sex activity is immoral, would be charged with hate speech. In addition, in schools they will have to teach that there are two kinds of marriages, etc., which is unacceptable to many people (and this is a problem in Massachusetts).

Mar. 25 2013 10:29 AM
Desiree from Park Slope

Dear Takeaway.

Marriage is a CIVIL institution. It has nothing to do with religion.

Millions of non-religious straight, consenting couples get married every day all over the world in civil ceremonies that have nothing to do with religious beliefs and no one tries to stop them because of some religious dogma.

Why does the media focus so heavily on what religious people think about people who are NOT part of their religion getting married or adopting children (both of which are about The State, not The Church)

We are not talking about religious ceremonies.

I don't care what someone does or doesn't allow in their church, temple or mosque. It has nothing to do with me or my life as an out, Black, Lesbian citizen of the United States.

They should keep their religion to themselves and worry about what folks in their community do or don't do.

Stop treating gay rights as a religious issues. People have all kinds of "reasons" and justifications for bigotry and discrimination. Religion is just one of them but NONE of them are valid reasons to deny two consenting adult citizens the right to get married in a civil ceremony.

Why should we as citizens and individuals who are supposed to be treated equally under the law have to have our rights decided upon by the religious beliefs of others?

Mar. 25 2013 09:58 AM
Jay Akers

Our acceptance of deviant behavior as normal will be one of the main contributing factors to the downfall of this great nation.

Mar. 25 2013 09:27 AM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.