Earlier today, ESPN columnist Jemele Hill wrote a column entitled ‘Respect David Tyree’s Convictions‘ about the Super Bowl champion’s public opposition to gay marriage in general, and the passage of a same-sex marriage bill in New York State in particular:
Tyree, whose catch in Super Bowl XLII is among the most amazing plays in NFL postseason history, has drawn widespread criticism for his strong opposition to gay marriage. The issue is a hot topic in New York, where the state legislature is currently considering whether to make New York the sixth state to legalize same-sex marriage.
In a recent video for the National Organization for Marriage, Tyree said passage of a gay marriage bill would lead to “anarchy.”…
Tyree, a devout Christian, is certainly not alone in his beliefs. Though The New York Times reported recently that his views might be “evolving,” President Barack Obama, who will visit New York this week, is on record as supporting civil unions for gay couples but not same-sex marriage, citing his religious beliefs.
Hill’s argument is that, although controversial and unpalatable to those who support marriage equality – 58% of New Yorkers, Tyree has the right to his opinion and free speech to voice it, and that should be respected. In that, she is correct. According to the First Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, we are granted free speech and Tyree does have every right to voice his opposition to a proposed law.
However, Tyree’s position – and that of anyone who uses their religious beliefs to oppose civil marriage law – should absolutely not be tolerated. Tyree’s main position is that same-sex marriage is not compatible with his religious beliefs. Yet there is another right in the First Amendment granted to Americans by our founders, and that is the freedom of religion, enacted through the separation of church and state. What that means is that no religious belief should used as a basis for passing a law in this country. The word “marriage,” as defined by the state which grants certain benefits to legally married couples, has absolutely nothing to do with religion. Couples are granted marriage licenses in New York and every other state regardless of whether they worship in a Catholic or Baptist church, a Jewish synagogue, a Muslim or Hindu temple, or not at all. When an opposite-sex couple walks into City Hall to get a marriage license they are not granted it on the basis that a religious institution will bless that marriage. If they do not practice any religion they are not required to do so before they can obtain a marriage license, and have their union legally called a “marriage”. All they have to do is recite vows to one another, and the law grants them benefits as a married couple. If we allow lawmakers to vote for or against a proposed bill based on their own personal religious convictions, without regard for the religious freedom of those they represent, what happens to the separation of church and state? Why isn’t anyone saying that this would cause anarchy?
The same-sex marriage bill proposed by New York’s Governor Cuomo has been stalled in the Senate for several days now because many Republican Senators want the bill to be amended to ensure further protections of religious organizations, should they desire to deny same-sex couples from the services they provide. They want to strengthen the separation of church and state by not allowing civil marriage law to influence the practices of a religious organization. If that’s what it takes to pass marriage equality in New York, fine. This is a civil issue, not a religious one, so it should not affect the religious interpretation of the word marriage. But there is inherent hypocrisy in invoking the separation of church and state to protect religious organizations from state laws, while dissolving church and state separation to influence lawmaker decisions based on religious convictions.
Last week, Senator Mark Grisanti of Buffalo changed his position from “no” to “undecided” on same-sex marriage:
Friends say that Grisanti has almost become consumed by the weight of the issue and that he is torn between his personal beliefs as a Catholic in a conservative district and the issue’s civil rights concerns as a lawyer.
“If I take the Catholic out of me, which is hard to do, then absolutely they should have these rights,” Grisanti said.
“It has nothing to do with politics. It has to do with my own personal belief.”
Senator Grisanti should not have to take the Catholic out of him to vote for this bill. This bill grants civil marriage benefits, as recognized by the state which is not governed by Catholic law. By allowing his vote to be influenced by his own personal religious convictions he would be violating the state’s guarantee that all citizens should be protected equally by its laws, whether any religion agrees with those laws or not.