Tuesday, November 07, 2006

Toleration and same sex marriage

The same sex marriage issue comes down to what it means to be tolerant in a democratic society. Toleration means no religious group may trump the civil rights of other religious or secular groups based on a preferred set of religious beliefs. Yet we have this gross violation of the rights of a whole class of people who would like to start a family, whether with children or not. Laws banning same sex marriage are anathema to democratic forms of government that espouse religious toleration as a value.

A few people, despite their opposition to same sex marriage on religious grounds, have recognized toleration as the issue surrounding same sex marriage. They may stop short when government enforces same sex marriage ceremonies in churches opposed to it, but they recognize the rights of other churches and the civil authorities to perform those marriage ceremonies. I applaud them for understanding the issue aright.

The public debate over same sex marriage revolves around legal matters such as whether states or the federal government should ban or approve same sex marriages, or it is a vacuous discussion about family values, a term so nebulous that it defies definition. Toleration has slipped from the public debate. This says something about the erosion of democratic values and our understanding of them.

We often hear those wishing the state would ban same sex marriage called values voters. However, those who value toleration have a better claim to the name values voter than those who oppose toleration in a democratic state.

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