April 17, 2009

What About The Religious Freedoms Of The Universal Life Church?

Back when The Marriage Cases still had an operable holding, I considered becoming ordained as a minister of the Universal Life Church. I wanted to be able to preside over a marriage and was proud that California had taken the step it had towards making that a truly universal right. And you don't even have to believe in God to be a minister of the Universal Life Church (although its founders do). There are no doctrines, no holy books, no moral teachings. The ULC trusts its members and ministers to follow their own moral compasses and make decisions based on what they feel is right.

Which means that the ULC will not tell any of its ministers whether they can or cannot marry gay couples -- that's something that gets decided by individuals. That, in turn, makes the ULC a church that will marry gay couples. So I'm kind of tickled to read at Box Turtle Bulletin that the ULC is leading an effort to void state-level defense of marriage laws because they violate the ULC's First Amendment rights to practice their religion as they see fit.

This is a useful, concrete example of the fallacy of religious groups claiming that their religious freedoms will be violated by laws permitting same-sex marriage -- here, after all, is a church whose religious freedoms are violated by laws prohibiting same-sex marriage.

That same fallacy is why the ULC's legal effort will necessarily fail, because it's an equally fallacious argument for them. Religious marriage is not the same thing as civil marriage. Take, for instance, two Catholics who are both divorced from previous marriages, who wish to marry one another. The Roman Catholic Church does not recognize the spiritual validity of volitional divorce, and therefore according to its doctrine, those two people are still married to their original spouses and cannot marry one another. According to their religion, they are not married. But according to the state, they are. A same-sex marriage solemnized by the ULC is the converse situation -- recognized by the church but not recognized by the state.

Alas, I fear this effort, based as it is upon an exposure of the irrational basis upon which "religious freedom" objections to same-sex marriage are based, is doomed to failure. Those who fear that their churches will really have to marry same-sex couples in violation of their religious teachings want to believe this is true. They want to believe that they are an oppressed minority and that a storm is coming. Therefore, they will believe it even when their justification for doing so is exposed as completely without foundation.* Since they have a fundamental blind spot to logical rigor in the first place, they will dismiss the ULC's exercise in demonstrating the ridiculousness of their reasoning as an unserious and sophomoric stunt, akin to the Flying Spaghetti Monster. Which was an unserious and sophomoric stunt, but one which has more than amply demonstrated, in a very serious way, the ridiculous arguments for creationism.

* This website is run in counterposition to the "National Organization for Marriage" which launched a campaign called "Two Million For Marriage." They abbreviated the campaign "2M4M" which, as it turns out, is singles-ad code for a gay couple looking for a third gentleman to join them for an evening of, um, fun and games.

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