Guest blogger Jack Drescher and Nan Hunter both addressed this recent NY Times column on a supposed compromise on the issue of same-sex marriage. I wanted to address the column from a different point of view, but both of their entries are definitely worth reading.
Jonathan Rauch, a vocal conservaqueer and same-sex marriage advocate, and David Blankenhorn, president of the Institute for American Values, a rightwing think tank, have (not) reached across the aisle to come to this compromise:
It would work like this: Congress would bestow the status of federal civil unions on same-sex marriages and civil unions granted at the state level, thereby conferring upon them most or all of the federal benefits and rights of marriage. But there would be a condition: Washington would recognize only those unions licensed in states with robust religious-conscience exceptions, which provide that religious organizations need not recognize same-sex unions against their will. The federal government would also enact religious-conscience protections of its own. All of these changes would be enacted in the same bill.
How in the world is that a compromise? It sounds a lot more like rolling over on our backs and letting the Religious Right have 90% of what they want, when our side is the inherent compromise position (it's not like we're asking that heterosexual couples be denied relationship recognition).
It reminds me of those "bipartisan" compromises that always seem to lean very far to the right. In fact, in this day and age, the definition of "bipartisanship" seems to be giving the right whatever they want without much of a fight. This compromise does more of the same.
After the perfunctory pats on the back Rauch and Blankenhorn give themselves for being so high-minded as to reach an accord (because sometimes conservatives disagree, and it's just so terrible for the nation to have to live through that!), their proposal asks us to support civil unions under the condition that "robust" right of conscience protections are given to religious organizations.
Same-sex marriage is already the compromise position. Civil unions is a compromise between that and what the right wants: no recognition of same-sex couples at all. Throwing in the right of conscience exemption is just another way for the left on this issue to cave in to the right, moving the debate further in their direction. Moreover, right of conscience rules are a huge regression for liberals, not a step in the right direction.
Right of conscience rules exist already in many states so that doctors can refuse medical treatment to women based on their personal morality, and which the Bush Department of Health and Human Services further expanded towards the end of his lame duck period by allowing pretty much anyone who works in a clinic to refuse anything they deem to be abortion (which includes contraception).
These rules are based on the idea that the far-right is in the process of entrenching that if you really, really don't want to follow a law, you don't have to. And if you're a church, the government shouldn't be able to make you do anything. It's a way of expanding their power and getting us all used to the idea that religious organizations (specifically their religious organizations) are above the law.
And it's all for the purpose of protecting discriminatory attitudes and subjugating women. It's a process argument, much like "judicial activists" and "state rights," that's nothing more than a veneer for ideas that we should be fighting against, not appeasing.
Further, as Nan Hunter stated earlier today:
It was striking to me that the op-ed completely omitted any discussion of the impact when non-church (etc) entities - like charities or hospitals with a religious affiliation - accept public funds. When all of our tax dollars are supporting these organizations, then all of us have a legitimate concern about the services they provide.
Indeed. It's almost as if this "compromise" was written by two people who really don't care about the separation of church and state, or any other progressive value for that matter.
It'd be nice if the compromises these pundits fall backwards over each other to congratulate themselves for would actually involve the left at all. But I guess they cut out the step of waiting for the left to cave to the right and decided to find a compromise amongst themselves. They're practical that way.
And while Rauch and Blankenhorn dismiss people who actually have values by referring to themselves as "reasonable people of good will" (because people who stick to their goals are unreasonable or acting out of ill will?) they show what their "good will" actually amounts to:
What if a church auxiliary or charity is told it must grant spousal benefits to a secretary who marries her same-sex partner or else face legal penalties for discrimination based on sexual orientation or marital status?
OMFG THE HORROR! A church might be expected to help someone get medical help. What kind of world do we live in where fine, upstanding religious folks are expected to take part in such filthy acts like paying for their employees' families health care?
Now I'm totally in favor of separating health care from marital status as well as employment status. I don't have health care when I'm in the US (or here either, at the moment), and marrying someone isn't going to solve that. I agree with Nan's policy-level objections, and agree that many of the rights associated with marriage should be expanded beyond marriage to many relationship that are important to people, and that civil unions should be created both federally and at the state-level, open to all people who want to enter them.
I also agree with Jack Drescher that compromise is sometimes necessary, and that there's no sense in looking down our noses at civil unions that can provide many of the rights same-sex couples need sooner.
But this proposal isn't a compromise, and it isn't a step in the right direction. It's right-wing position paper posing as a right-left compromise, helping to move the debate far in the favor of the Religious Right.
And there's no guarantee that they'd accept it. James Dobson and Tony Perkins, who have loads more influence among the Religious Right than David Blankenhorn does, just put this out today:
Three states voted in November to define marriage in their constitutions as the union of one man and one woman. But family advocates have had little time to celebrate.
Across the nation, a new wave of legislation is threatening the definition of marriage.
"As we speak, a dozen or so states are on high alert for legislation that could radically alter the family," said Tony Perkins, president of FRC Action. "Unless you and your church family engage, we stand to lose a lot of important ground."
In the Northeast, several states seem set on legalizing homosexual "marriage," including Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont.
Hawaii and Washington are looking to sanction civil unions, while Colorado and New Mexico soon could take up domestic-partnership legislation -- all of which would grant some or all of the rights and benefits of marriage to same-sex couples.
Jenny Tyree, marriage analyst at Focus on the Family Action, said there's no doubt that civil-union and domestic-partnership bills act as stepping stones toward the redefinition of marriage.
"These bills are advanced to promote an agenda that ignores the stabilizing influence of marriage for children, adults and our economy," she said.
"Our country is in a period of economic uncertainty, and people should contact their state legislators and urge them to promote family and societal stability."
And the claim that the biggest objection these folks have to same-sex marriage is that religious institutions might be forced to recognize a same-sex marriage is laughable. They're homophobic and think that society will fall apart if homosexual relationships are recognized by the government. They're also Randian, free market fetishists who like to keep us, and everything related to the decline of Rockefeller-esque nuclear families, as a scapegoat for everything wrong in society so that people don't notice what rich folks are doing to shore up wealth.
And their followers are all too ready to fall in line. The best way to go is to push for civil unions first, as well as for the expansion of many of the rights of marriage to include many relationships outside of marriage.
But thinking that a right of conscience exemption has to come with civil unions is absurd. Even statistics Rauch and Blankenhorn cite show that support for civil unions is high enough to get them passed. There's no need to further expand right of conscience rules and further normalize the idea that churches don't have to follow the same rules the rest of us rubes have to follow.
There's no need for this kind of compromise, and the Religious Right sees it the same way too. The only folks who think of it differently are the compromise-for-the-sake-of-compromise seekers who are more concerned with stopping "a scorched-earth debate" than they are with the material protections that all sorts of families need in America.