NC GOP mishandles gay marriage discussion


The Appalachian Online

Kevin Griffin

As was to be expected, the arrival of same-sex marriage in North Carolina has not gone entirely smoothly. Several magistrates across the state quit their jobs because of the change in the law.

I do not have too much of a problem with that. Sure, it is ridiculous that someone would not perform the ceremonies, but at least they quit.

Republican lawmakers, however, are moving in a totally unacceptable direction. State Rep. Phil Berger Sr. plans to introduce a bill that would allow state officials to keep their jobs while also refusing to perform same-sex marriage ceremonies, according to the News & Observer. Beyond that, Berger issued a letter saying certain state and federal laws offered protections for state officials who did not want to conduct the ceremonies.

The confusion that state Republicans caused rose to such a level that the head of courts in North Carolina wrote a letter to Berger emphasizing that magistrates must, in fact, perform the ceremonies, according to the News & Observer.

Naturally, religious freedom is the rationale behind all of this. Ever since the Supreme Court ruled in June that Hobby Lobby was exempt from the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate, religious freedom has become a favorite rhetorical device of conservative Christians hoping to exempt themselves from laws that everyone else must follow.

The new meaning of religious freedom adopted by the religious right is an absurd caricature of any legitimate idea of religious freedom. Genuine religious freedom, the idea that people should be allowed to believe what they want, have wide, but not absolute, latitude to practice those beliefs and the ability to spread their message, is vital to a free society.

Religious freedom 2.0, however, is antithetical to the ideals of free society. It is all about the right of conservative Christians to impose their values on the whole of society.

It is hard to overstate how selfish this mindset is. The selfishness is ubiquitous in the rhetoric which seems to find same-sex marriage is not a long-overdue recognition of an unfairly excluded group’s rights, but something the government is forcing on us good Christians.

Having to live in a society with others with whom you dislike or disagree is not an imposition. It is the essence of a free society.

Many Christian churches do not want to perform same-sex weddings. Fair enough. I believe it is within their religious freedom to do so. But once you go beyond the church to cut off the ability of individuals to exercise their rights through the state, to cut off their access to the benefits and rights of all other citizens, you cross a line.

In this weird conception of religious freedom, conservative Christians seem to be the only people who matter. Its inevitable logic implies a society in which all are forced to live their lives within the confines of that dogma.

That idea, not compelling state workers to perform same-sex marriages, is the real threat to freedom.

Griffin, a junior journalism major from Madison, is an opinion writer.