So, today I did something I hadn’t done before. I attended an Executive Order signing ceremony.
Missouri Governor Jay Nixon today issued an order to instruct officials in his state that the Supreme Court Obergefell v. Hodges ruling “shall be implemented across the executive branch of state government” immediately. I was extremely pleased that he went even further, and argued that it was fundamentally unfair that a LGBT couple could now get married, but at the same time could lose their job or not receive equal access in public services because of their sexual orientation or gender identity. It is time, Nixon said, to add them to Missouri Non-Discrimination law. He’s right, as I’ll explain below.
Somewhere, on the other side of the heartland, Kansas Governor Sam Brownback was issuing a very different sort of executive order, one ostensibly protecting religious liberties of those who disagree with same sex marriages. Many have observed that the latter seems to be a solution in search of a problem, and Barbara Shelley of the Kansas City Star notes the stark difference in the message being sent to businesses and LGBT employees.
What is striking about all of this is how we’ve blurred the line between private expression of religion, on the one hand, and the public/civic realm, on the other. So many people are getting this wrong, both churchy types who disagreed with the Supreme Court, and others in the public realm who seem to want to allow the argument more weight than it probably deserves.
This was made perfectly clear today when, during the Nixon ceremony, after he answered several questions from the press, a Pentecostal pastor (Rev. LeRoy Glover of the Pentacostal Church of God in Christ) stood up to voice his objections. Not only did he (wrongly) suggest all Christians were in disagreement with Obergefell (and I was there, in my stole and cross, to witness my support, for instance), but further his stated objections clearly misunderstood the line between private expression of religion and the necessary equality of all in the public realm.
Glover expressed concern that churches and pastors would be forced to bless same sex unions (they won’t be), and he was concerned that a Christian baker might be forced to sell a same sex couple a wedding cake (and perhaps they might be, and arguably should be). Lets explore this a little more:
What is freedom of religion? It is the right of anyone to belong to any faith (or no faith) they choose, to assemble as they wish, to pray the way they want to pray. As long as churches/synagogues/mosques/temples/humanist societies operate in that sphere, they ought to be free to do so unencumbered (so long as they’re not directly harming another person in the process). No one is challenging this. No one has ever forced any church or pastor to participate against their conscience in a marriage ceremony or to sign a marriage license. That doesn’t change with this ruling, nor will it. Ever. And I would fight any effort to compel such a thing (just as I would, as an internal church matter, reject any requirement for PCUSA pastors/churches to participate in any marriage against their conscience).
But that is the private sphere of religion. Once people of faith or religious entities begin to operate in the public sphere, they must be required to follow the law like anyone else.