The choice Conor and other conservatives will have to make is whether, when forced to choose, they will defend religious liberty or side with the imposition of judicially imposed same-sex marriage. Many conservatives including cultural conservatives like me have proposed an alternative: legal recognition of civil unions. The fact that this option is unpalatable to same-sex marriage advocates like Andrew Sullivan shows that it isn’t simply a matter of legal recognition but of shutting down any opposition to the normalization of homosexual relationships.
The last thing I would ever want to do is shut down any opposition. Anyone who knows my work knows it's driven by a love of debate and constitutionally inviolable free exchange of ideas. And there is no conflict whatever between religious liberty and civil same-sex marriage. To make the case even faintly plausible, Carter is reduced to this:
Ministers and preachers could conceivably face conspiracy or incitement suits under these laws if, after hearing a preacher’s strongly-worded sermon against same-sex marriage, a congregant commits a hate crime against a person or business.
Yes and conceivably, all Christians will be marched into police stations for preaching Leviticus. But really: this is such patent paranoid nonsense. You won't find many people as opposed to hate crimes laws as yours truly (see my extended and passionate case against them here), but even I can see a clear distinction between extra punishment for an actual crime based on bias and prosecuting religious speech from the pulpit. And I know no-one - even on the fringes of the furthest left - who would want to see such a thing. The whole idea is beyond paranoid - and civil equality and religious difference, strongly expressed, are completely compatible in a diverse America. And I, for one, would go to the barricades to defend the right of Christianists to denounce me and my marriage in the strongest terms imaginable.
But to see why Carter is wrong, take the existence of civil divorce.
The biggest single denomination in America - Catholicism - denies the existence of divorce, does not recognize the sacred status of re-married couples, and has life-long marriage at the core of its definition of the institution. Has the Catholic church's religious liberty been infringed by the ubiquity of divorced couples? Are Catholic priests denied their First Amendment rights because they occasionally have to interact in the civil sphere with married couples whose marriages they deem invalid? Was the late Archbishop O'Connor of New York giving up the First Amendment by treating Ronald and Nancy Reagan's marriage as a precious thing?
Or take the Catholic church's insane position on the ordination of women. Gender equality is much more deeply embedded in the law than orientation equality. Has anyone actually sought to prosecute the church for being a deeply sexist institution? Have women brought lawsuits against priests because a parishioner went out and raped someone - or discriminated against them in employment? I mean: please. The whole idea is fueled by pure panic at the thought of having to live in a society in which gay citizens are treated like everyone else.
By the way, if Carter does indeed support civil unions with all the state and federal rights and responsibilities of civil marriage, it's news to me. Does he? Or was this rhetoric? And maybe he could provide a list of his fellow evangelicals and cultural conservatives who support such an idea. It would make for fascinating reading.
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