Thursday, October 8, 2009
The current Commonweal has my review essay on the recent book, Same-Sex Marriage and Religious Liberty (edited by Doug Laycock, Anthony Picarello, and Robin Wilson). It's a well-done book on an important issue. My review is accessible only to subscribers, but here's an excerpt:
Few same-sex-marriage advocates favor a diminishment of religious liberty for its own sake. The problem is rather that the institution of same-sex marriage will need to rely heavily on state power. As a legal institution, heterosexual marriage encounters relatively little resistance from the citizenry because it is grounded not just in legal norms, but in social, cultural, religious, and biological norms as well. Same-sex marriage still encounters significant resistance from the citizenry, in part because it conflicts with the traditional religious conception of marriage, but also because it lacks the broader social and cultural supports that heterosexual marriage has, even outside the religious context.
It is not enough for society to respond to those who object to same-sex marriage simply by saying, “If you oppose same-sex marriage, don’t enter into one.” After all, those who object to same-sex marriage make up many of the associations that constitute civil society. Once the state has expanded the legal definition of marriage to include same-sex couples, the pressing task will be to determine how aggressively to enforce that definition.
And from the conclusion:
The institutions of civil society are not simply vehicles for the implementation of widely held norms; they are also bulwarks against the imposition of widely held norms. This does not mean that institutional freedom should be unfettered. It does mean that using state power to subvert the moral authority of these institutions comes at a significant social cost, no matter how noble the purpose. Eventually, proponents and opponents of same-sex marriage will need to have a conversation about their shared interest in a society that ensures room for dissent from majoritarian norms. Consider this book the conversation-starter.