“A vote of conscience”

Congratulations to the New York legislature for legalizing gay marriage in the state, for doing it with support from Democrats and Republicans, for stepping forward and changing the law to protect the civil rights of all New York citizens.  I read that the passage of the New York law is being credited to a couple of senators, one of whom voted against a similar proposal two years ago, both of whom cited the same reason for their vote this time: conscience.  “It was the right thing to do” is a powerful weapon.

I’m happy to see that people are coming around.  Yes, much more slowly than you might like, but big changes don’t happen overnight.  Now you’ve got the lawmakers in New York, the third-most populous state in the nation, accepting that gay marriage is a question of civil rights, one that can’t be pushed aside any more.

The objections still come predominantly from a religious point of view, and I get that.  These people want the civil law to enforce their religious beliefs on everyone, but that’s not the way it works in this exceptional country.  For the sake of the discussion, let’s accept the premise that the United States was founded on Christian principles; that still doesn’t make the United States a “Christian nation,” despite the fact that more Americans identify as Christians than as members of any other religion.   The Founding Fathers—not all devout Christians in the modern sense, not by any means—believed in everyone having the freedom to worship as they choose to, and in a government that does not show preference for any one religion over another (my translation of the establishment clause).  Legislators pass laws to protect the rights of all Americans, not just the ones who practice the majority religion.

You don’t believe in gay marriage?  OK, that’s your right.  Your church doesn’t believe in gay marriage?  Don’t perform any; no one’s forcing you.  What New York and other states have done is make it legal for two people of the same sex to take out a marriage license under civil law and enjoy the rights and responsibilities that come with being married.  They don’t need the approval of any religious group, they’re married in the eyes of the law.  From a legal point of view, I don’t see the substantive difference between a heterosexual couple who get married in a civil ceremony and a homosexual couple who get married in a civil ceremony—none of them have the approval of any church, nor do they need it.  More power to ’em all.

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