David Blankenhorn and Jonathan Rauch have written the week’s most talked-about op-ed, “A Reconciliation on Gay Marriage.” It’s an eye-catching byline, because Blankenhorn – a marriage equality opponent I’ve criticized once or twice in the past — and Rauch, one of the country’s leading marriage equality proponents — seem unlikely bedfellows.
We take very different positions on gay marriage. We have had heated debates on the subject. Nonetheless, we agree that the time is ripe for a deal that could give each side what it most needs in the short run, while moving the debate onto a healthier, calmer track in the years ahead.
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.
Pam, who I usually agree with, has misunderstood what the proposal is:
I have a problem with this already, though I see where they are trying to accomplish — getting same-sex couples access to the rights and benefits of civil marriage and cede the word marriage to those who cannot decouple it from religious marriage in their heads.
But the compromise doesn’t cede the word “marriage.” Blankenhorn and Rauch aren’t trying to end debate over the word “marriage.” What the B/R compromise (as I shall now call it) attempts to do is put aside two sub-debates associated with marriage, while leaving the primary debate — over formal marriage equality — untouched and ongoing.
I think marraige equality proponents should take this deal, if it becomes a real legislative possibility.
First of all, Federal recognition of same-sex marriages and unions is worth a lot, even though the fight for full marriage equality would still go on. The benefits for couples currently torn apart by unjust and bigoted immigration laws, for example, would be incredibly important, and that’s just one example — there’s also tax law, social security, etc..
Second of all, the anti-marriage-equality movement relies on saying “booga-booga! Teh gays are coming to take away your religious liberties!” in order to drum up donations and votes. This bill could be an enourmous boon to us, because it would let equality proponents say “not only is that not true, it’s against a Federal law that was passed just last year — and the law was originally proposed by the guy who wrote the book on opposing equal marraige!”
Would that, alone, be a game-changer? Would it stop some marriage equality proponents from lying about what marraige equality would do? Of course not. But it would help. Not a guaranteed win, but also not nothing. As David Link writes,
The compromise tests the veracity of the claim that religious believers worry civil recognition of same-sex relationships will invade their belief system through the enforcement of civil rights laws which require gays to be treated equally. The right has been able to scare up a few anecdotes about this misuse of civil rights laws: a wedding photographer forced to photograph a lesbian wedding; a same-sex couple who wanted to take advantage of a church-owned gazebo, which the church offered for use to the public; and churned them into a froth of paranoia about governmental intrusion into religion.
I’m with Jon in offering this proposal up publicly. I am happy to let the right know that we are dedicated to stopping this cascade of anecdotes. If they want additional assurance that the first amendment’s separation of church and state means what it says, I will be on the front lines to add a statutory “and we really mean it” clause.
In fact, the B/R compromise doesn’t go far enough. Can we also add another “and we really mean it” clause, saying that parents have the right to withdraw their children from any class in which the teacher is teaching about same-sex marriage?
Because if those two clauses had been federal law a year ago, I very much doubt Proposition 8 could have passed.
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There is a danger here, as Nan Hunter points out:
…satan is truly in the details of their proposal for a “robust” exception for religious belief. 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.
I wondered about this too, and emailed Rauch asking about it. Rauch told me that he’s imagining broad federal guidelines, with freedom for states to make their own religious exemption rules within those guidelines.
That’s conforting, in a way. If the “robust” exception for religious belief would mean that Massachusetts can set its own standards, then Massachusetts wouldn’t have to accept Catholic hospitals refusing to acknowlege same-sex marriages. Of course, homophobes in states like Florida would use the exemption to screw over same-sex couples — but that’s already happening, so it’s not clear how the B/R compromise would make things worse.
Assuming it doesn’t become a trojan horse for eviserating anti-discrimination laws (as Kate Harding thinks is Blankenhorn’s intention), I’d like to see this compromise become law. It could provide substantial benefits for same-sex couples nationwide, and also blunt one of the anti-equality side’s favorite attacks. And I think that the more experience the country has with legally recognized same-sex unions, the better the odds of reaching full marriage equality. (Maggie Gallagher agrees with me, although in her case it’s something she fears.)
Curtsy: Eve at the Marriage Debate blog.