The morning after is always worse than the night before. Today is the Christian blogosphere’s morning after. Yesterday, President Obama gave his support for gay marriage, making him the first sitting president to do so, and this morning thousands of Christian bloggers took to their keyboards.

Yes, I’m here too.

Depending on the angle, the responses fit into a few categories. Most people say how not surprised they are. While the news was still breaking, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary president Al Mohler offered a sarcastically parenthetical “again” after announcing the news of Obama’s support for gay marriage to his Twitter followers. This morning he too took to his blog saying, “No observer of this president could be surprised.”

In one of the strangest, and thus one of my favorite, responses, my fellow Patheos writer Bristol Palin quipped, “Is anyone really surprised by the fact that President Obama came out of the closet for gay marriage?” From there she went on to suggest that the president arrived at his opinion solely from listening to his teenage daughters and watching Glee.

And yet the challenge for the too-in-the-know-to-be-surprised crowd is to still make this seem like a matter of grave importance. Mohler again, “His call for the legalization of same-sex marriage yesterday is an historic and tragic milestone.” He goes on to say that this is a “sad day for America” and a “sad day for truth.”

Collin Hansen, at The Gospel Coalition, sees the president’s announcement as an opportunity for Christians to strategize on “How to Win the Public on Homosexuality,” as his piece is titled. He calls homosexuality a challenge “that threatens us all,” and goes on to argue that at the heart of the problem is the way we’ve redefined God into a granter of our desires.

It’s easy to agree with a lot of what Hansen says. Are American Christians redefining God in our own image? Yes. Have we come to believe that we should get what we desire? Yes.

But, as a response to the president’s announcement yesterday, Hansen’s piece fails because a discussion of sinful desires or our conception of God or any of the other nine scripture references that Hansen peppers throughout the last three paragraphs of his piece have nothing to do with legalizing gay marriage.

The issue of gay marriage isn’t a religious issue; it’s a political issue. Remember that what President Obama affirmed yesterday was the right of two consenting adults to be granted married status in the eyes of the state.

Of course this doesn’t mean that political views can’t be shaped by one’s faith; the president himself illustrated this in his interview with ABC. He said of he and Michelle, “we are both practicing Christians…when we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

I believe that President Obama’s faith really has influenced his decision to support gay marriage, as it has mine. As I’ve written in many places, I don’t think a politician or a voter should be expected to separate his or her political beliefs from religious ones.

Likewise, when Christian bloggers like Hansen respond to the president’s declaration or to the issue of marriage equality in general, they are free to let their faith mold their opinion. But ultimately, in a pluralistic democratic society that opinion has to hold up to secular scrutiny.

Even in citing religion, President Obama modeled the kind of compromise that has to be made when using religious motivation to back up a political opinion. Note the way that he, like many people often do, changed the wording of Jesus’ command to “love your neighbor as yourself,” to the Golden Rule version, “treat others the way you would want to be treated.”

But those that argue against the legal marriage of two adults because they believe that gay sex is sinful, or as Hansen’s more evolved theology has it “the vain pursuit of self-fulfillment” is sinful, have the burden of proving why in secular society, a religious consideration like sin is a viable factor. Like the president, they must show how their religious views correspond to a secular argument.

They cannot. There is no way to argue against gay marriage from a religious standpoint because when it comes down to it, it’s not a religious issue. Even if Collin Hansen and his ilk convince the whole country that homosexuality is sinful, it will not hurt the argument that gay marriage should be lawful.

They will never “win the public on homosexuality.”

About The Author

Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

Editor | Follow him on Twitter.

  • http://neilhanson.com Neil Hanson

    Good article.

    Two comments:

    First, on the question: Are we redefining G-d in our own image? and the answer that “yes we are”, I would submit that the great strength of Christianity as a “political religion” over the past 1600 years has been its ability to continually redefine G-d in the image of the existing culture. Paul began this successful tradition by throwing out the bulk of “The Law” in order to better assimilate Roman and Greek gentiles.

    Second,this issue makes me smile A LOT. As a strong conservative, I don’t think the government belongs in my bedroom, or has any place defining and enforcing anybody’s “morals”. If there is a legal construct called Marriage that government recognizes and allows certain rights as a result of, that government should stay the heck out of defining who I can or do marry.

    The thing that makes me smile is that people who call themselves conservative seem so bent on allowing (or forcing) the government into the private business of folks.

    Thanks for the article!

    Neil

    • TheoMatt

      “If there is a legal construct called Marriage that government recognizes and allows certain rights as a result of, that government should stay the heck out of defining who I can or do marry.”

      yeah see, this only makes sense if you define conservative as some juvenile anti-state pose, which for some (a lot?) it may be but isn’t historically accurate. it also only makes sense if you define marriage as just something people do that only affects them, rather than, you know, their kids as well, and the fact that a revolving door of divorce/remarriage will be even more irreversible than it is now if SSM is law, because then it has no intrinsic connection to childbearing, even taking homosexual adoption into account.

      but, i’m sure the “whatever bloats your goat” crowd has zero problems with this, despite their disingenuous “focus on divorce” rhetoric.

      • Ed

        “the fact that a revolving door of divorce/remarriage will be even more irreversible than it is now if SSM is law”–Fact? Data, please. Causation, correlation? Why not outlaw heterosexual divorce, rather than focus such tremendous energy and money fighting SSM?

      • jamie

        People get divorced in the US because their families do not shun them, and women are able to avail themselves of means without a man. Remove these and divorces will stop, but the price is a terrible one.

  • http://in-fraction.blogspot.com Thom

    I was following you until those last to paragraphs. (1) “those that argue against [X] have the burden of proving why in secular society” blah blah blah.” I see you’ve already accepted the current arbiters of the Enlightenment Project as the proper gatekeepers of the public square. I have to ask, then, why you care to write about religion? (2) “There is no way to argue against gay marriage from a religious standpoint because when it comes down to it, it’s not a religious issue.” This is nonsensical. Unless you accept a materialist worldview–which you may, given the first point–everything is a religious issue, the only question is what religion.

  • http://www.jonathandfitzgerald.com Jonathan D. Fitzgerald

    Thom, thanks for reading/commenting. I’m not sure it matters much whether I accept “the current arbiters of the Enlightenment Project as the proper gatekeepers on the public square,” since the current arbiters are the gatekeepers. In other words, we are operating within a system. So even if I said, “No, current arbiters of the Enlightenment Project, you are not the proper gatekeepers, etc,” they still would be. That is how the US Government works.

    On the second point, I think it’s a semantic game you’re playing. Even if I acknowledge that everything is a religious issue, and we agree that the religion in play here is the Enlightenment Project or some such thing, my argument stands that using Christian categories to argue an Enlightenment Project structure is moot.

  • Carson

    It’s been said before, but what stands out clearly is the difference in the definitions of marriage. Painting broadly, those with the President see the State as granter of “marriage status,” while religious conservatives see the state as recognizing marriage, not granting it. These definitions seem irreconcilable to me.

    • Ormond Otvos

      If the state only “recognizes” marriages, then all marriages must be recognized, under the first Amendment.

    • ok

      State and religious marriage are not ‘irreconcilable’, they are *different*. The state recognizes a ‘civil’ marriage, which gives you all the *state* conferred rights (inheritance, stay at hospital, …), and for this one, gay and straight couples should have the exact same rights.

      Your church may marry you, and that gives you the rights you believe it gives you, and the state doesn’t get to say anything about that.

      There’s nothing irreconcilable, it’s just some of us are using the same word, marriage, for those two different concepts, civil marriage and religious marriage.

  • Bill

    “Do unto others as you would have done unto you. This is the fulfillment of the law and the prophets.”

    So, deny gay marriage if you are willing to deny it to yourself.

    Any other position is a slap across the face of Jesus.

  • Koop

    Coming from a non-religious upbringing I must say I find the statement “everything is a religious issue” a very puzzling viewpoint. For example, when a group of people that are in charge of deciding whether a new intersection should have a stop sign or a stop light, what role does/should religion play in the decision process? That is, of course, but one relatively obscure example but given my background there are relatively few issues that I think that a person’s religious views should come into play on how society is organized and best operated.

    You think that your God forbids the drinking of alcohol or caffeine. That is your business. What business is it of yours to impose your religious beliefs on others? You think that your God forbids gay marriage, fine. Join with others in your religious institution and make sure that it isn’t allowed within your religion but don’t dictate to people of a different religion (or even the same religion) and of a different sexual orientation that the state can’t recognize their love and union.

    Be well.

  • homer

    So tired of this topic. Fundamentalist Christians better get used to same sex marriage because us gay folks are not going to disappear or straighten-up.

  • jdbos

    @Carson says:
    May 11, 2012 at 4:27 pm

    …those with the President see the State as granter of “marriage status,” while religious conservatives see the state as recognizing marriage, not granting it.

    Here’s the problem with this: “religious conservatives,” as characterized above, are factually wrong. (I am *not* saying “morally wrong.” I mean that this position is at odds with the legal facts of marriage.)

    When you get married in the US here’s what happens: you go to a state, county or municipal office with your betrothed. You fill out some paperwork, pay a fee, and get a marriage license. That license will become valid when you and your intended make vows in front of a person empowered by the state to witness marriage vows, and that person signs the license.

    As a sign of respect for the place that religion holds in our society, and as a matter of practical convenience, that person *can be* an ordained minister. But he or she *need not* be. In fact, it is entirely possible, it happens every day, that people undertake marriages that are are forbidden by religion. Divorced, and want to marry again? No Catholic priest will witness that marriage, but lots of JPs will be happy to. Jewish, and want to marry a Gentile? Forget it, in front of an Orthodox rabbi. Muslim, and your intended is an atheist? Not going to happen before an imam.

    There is any number of existing marriages that have not been recognized by a religious tradition, in fact have been condemned, but have been granted by the state. The resulting marriage has exactly equal standing before the state as would a marriage approved by a religious tradition.

    The situation is not the “either/or” that @Carson suggested, but a “both/and.” The state recognizes equally both marriages that have been solemnized by a religious tradition AND those that have no formal religious recognition but which have been witnessed by a non-religious deputy such as a JP. It is true that you, and your religious tradition, are not expected to approve or recognize such a marriage, but for civil purposes such a marriage is indistinguishable from one approved by a religious tradition. The state’s recognition of the marriage, and granting of the rights pertaining, is orthogonal to religous recognition.

    It is with this understanding that same-sex couples seek marriage rights, and, at the risk of putting words into our host’s mouth, I believe that is the situation Mr. Fitzgerald has in mind.

    It’s also worth nothing that this is not an innovation. While marriage without religious sanction argualble has become more popular within the last generation or two, the legal framework has been there for a long, long time.

  • http://gaymarriedcalifornian.blogspot.com IT

    EXACTLY what jdbos says.

    If two atheists can marry, then marriage is not per se religious.

    The problem is of course that unlike many other countries, we have conflated state-sanctioned civil marriage with Holy Matrimony, and made churches agents of the state. Therefore it is not surprising that they confuse their roles.

    But churches are NOT an arm of the state, and in a pluralistic society, no one church can decide the rules for the others. The Episcopalians, UCC, Lutherans, and others all seek to recognized LGBT couples. Evangelicals may disagree, but they don’t get to make the rules for other CHristian denominations, much as they try to claim the term “Christian” for their unique usage.

    The idea that the civil marriage of two gay people has any effect on the religious freedom of, say, Roman Catholics is as absurd as saying that the religious freedom of those Roman Catholics is offended by two divorced people remarrying, or two atheists marrying.

    That being the case, there is no persuasive legal way to discriminate against gay couples any more than the state discriminates against atheists, the divorced, people of mixed faith, etc.

    And while some churches remain free to discriminate as they choose, others will seize the opportunity to marry their faithful LGBT congregants, as has already happened in MA and elsewhere.

    Now THAT’S religious freedom.

    • MaineUKFan

      Hear, hear!

  • MT from CC

    jbdos – Well said. And IT, it need not be two atheists for marriage not to be religious per se. It can simply be secular – many people who do not reject religion completely view marriage as secular and choose not be married by a minister, or priest, or rabbi or imam. Not orthodox Jews, and not observant Catholics, perhaps, but many, many people. We have to stop allowing the religious right monopolize the definition of what religion should be, and what its place in 21st century America should be. They are wrong about everything else, what makes us think they would be right about this?

    • Dave Cohen

      I agree with jbdos and the supporting followups, but why don’t we all shut up and save our breath. You cannot reason with these people, not on gay marriage, not on evolution, not on the age of the earth etc. They have the truth and all we can do is vote.

  • http://vastation-jerry.blogspot.com jerry hanlon

    I noticed how the responses are mostly as
    as if memorized from the same talking points.
    The right wing marches in lockstep as does
    Bristol Palin.

    I noticed the look of the
    iconic heroine in the movie “Hunger Games”
    (at the end of the movie) is made to look EXACTLY
    LIKE BRISTOL along with added weight and
    heavy makeup. This was deliberate and it
    also means,unfortunately, we are being prepared
    be hearing from Bristol politically…

    As the WSJ editor said after the Clinton
    scandals,”if a conservative is caught in….
    (pick your sin but in this case adultery)
    we will defend them. It’s not fair but
    life isn’t fair”. Thus the game is given
    away but rarely so honestly in print.
    Then again,this was pre-Murdoch.

    But the entire Palin family? Well sure.
    Republicans knew if they could successfully
    PR their voters into accepting Sarah in 08,
    they would be able to sell a Mormon in 2012.
    They were right.

  • Pingback: Links from May 2012 on the Same Sex Marriage Debate | Leadingchurch.com

  • Joe M

    “I noticed how the responses are mostly as
    as if memorized from the same talking points.”

    And you invoke the Palins in your response. Pot/Kettle. This site has far too many Frank Schaeffer clones, protesting Fundamentalists with the same self-righteousness for which they are so disdaining. All too much like a college class: “I am twenty and [foot stomp] I KNOW WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT!!!”

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  • Alphonso Higginbothan

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