THE SUPREME COURT AND WHY PUBLIC SERVANTS SHOULD NOT BE PLAYING GOD
Note: I started writing this piece before the Supreme Court Ruling in Obergefell v. Hodges, then completed after the ruling.
I lost my religion in 1984, it must have been in the fall. It’s not that I was particularly religious before then, but I was born a Roman Catholic, made my First Communion, took the Eucharist after sitting passive for mass every Sunday. I considered myself a Catholic, albeit not devout. When asked, I was a Catholic.
In 1984, however, I attended classes for Confirmation into the church. My parents told me that I didn’t have to if i didn’t want to, but they said it in that parental way that made it understood that I really had to. Every week I sat in a class with fellow Catholics my age intent on gaining greater strength in the Holy Spirit. Meh. I wasn’t all that interested. Yes, I still considered myself Catholic, but would have done so regardless of Confirmation classes. The only saving grace, so to speek, was a tall, blonde for whom I entertained impure thoughts. In my thoughts; in my words; in what I’ve done; in what I’ve failed to do. Yeah, according to The Confiteor, I was pretty well screwed. But I still held to the Roman Catholic identity. After all, that’s what the confessional is for–not that I believed in the sanctity of that sacrament either, but…
No. I lost my religion toward the end of the Confirmation process.
As party of the ritual, before we were allowed to be confirmed, we had to interview with a designated church official. I was interviewed by a deacon. He was devout…very Catholic…and I was about to receive a wake up call.
It all started when he told me to relax and to answer his questions honestly. Well, there it was. I had to be honest. I didn’t want to be honest, but I was a Catholic and he was a deacon. I figured, so long as he didn’t ask me about the blonde I would be all right.
He didn’t ask me about the blonde, but he did ask me quite a few sensitive moral questions of which I was expected to testify in the approved Catholic resolution. He asked me about pre-martial sex…um, yeah…abortion, drugs, the confessional and other aspects of church doctrine. I answered honestly–and wrongly. I could tell I was wrong because that little vein on either side of his forehead blistered and almost seemed to pulse with each of my answers.
It was then, looking into the deacon’s beat-red face, that I realized a Catholic should not have this effect on a fellow Catholic during a conversation about Catholicism. One of us was probably not a true Catholic, and that person was probably me.
Despite my worst interview performance ever, I was allowed to continue on with the ritual. I was confirmed into the Roman Catholic Church and, I’m ashamed to say, I shouldn’t have been. I could really no longer call myself a Catholic in any conscientious way. Doing so struck me as fake and, quite frankly, an insult to the deacon who really was a good guy and worthy of the title.
Now I’m boring you with this personal story in order to make a larger point. I’m not merely exercising an ironic confessional.
A couple of the deacon’s questions stand out. For instance, he asked me how I felt about marrying outside of my faith. Well, my faith wasn’t particularly strong, so the honest answer at that time was that I really didn’t have a problem with the idea. “Would you at least marry a Christian?” He asked. I might, but it really didn’t matter to me. It was not a deciding factor. Another wrong answer. That little vein swelled even more.
“Well, if you did marry outside of the church, do you promise to raise your children in the faith?” Well, no. I hoped to teach them about many different faiths and let them choose for themselves. Yet another wrong answer.
Ultimately, I did marry outside of my faith, a Methodist. Doing so, however, was in violation of my deacon’s religious principles. According to some recent state laws, however, if that deacon were also the county clerk when my wife and I applied for our marriage license, he could have refused us based on the fact that our mixed marriage was an offense unto the one true God of the Holy Roman Catholic and Apostolic Church.
We all know that that was not the intent of the so-called religious freedom laws. The laws were designed to allow discrimination of the gay without being so explicit in the law itself, but discrimination is in bad taste when it is written in to legislation. My wife and I have the requisite gonad configuration to justify a marriage license even though such a union was technically offensive on religious grounds, so it’s unlikely that there would have been a problem. Because it’s really not about religion. It is about “those people” and their…you know…Those people. The point is, however, that my deacon could have refused based on the same bogus religious freedom argument as is presented to deny marriage to “those people.” Bigotry is bigotry, after alll. Nobody is really immune from hate.
We live in an increasingly diverse society. The kind of insularity that conservatives are trying to preserve is becoming less and less relevant. As individuals encounter more diverse alternatives to their own ways of seeing the world, we find that traditions born in a less diverse time are now archaic and meaningless. Not only is the racial, ethnic and religious composition of the country changing, but people are innovating new combinations of identities to present to the world, challenging our common understandings of belief, gender, sexuality, etc. As meaningful interactions between diverse identities increase, our understanding of equality, tolerance and respect must be challenged. If we are to have a functional democracy, then our institutions will have to become more, open minded, flexible and egalitarian.
It is, therefore, incumbent upon any democratic society to strictly separate the religious from the secular. If you are a public servant, you are the representative of the state and of the citizens–all citizens. Your religious preferences should not come into play when the goal is to provide equal rights under the law. If you don’t like this, don’t be a public servant. It would have been wrong to deny my fiancee and me a license based on our religious beliefs. It would have been wrong if the decision were based on our race or ethnicity. Denying us the right to marry based on our genital status must also be wrong.
Fortunately, last week, the Supreme Court demonstrated that, at least when it comes to marriage, it agrees with the above statement. because of Obergfell, the nation is one step closer to realizing an ideal. My old deacon is fighting a losing battle.