Republican strategist, Ana Navarro, argues that religious freedom and the legality of same-sex marriage are compatible. She’s quick to compare her enlightened views to those of Democrats, an interesting strategy given the state of her party:
Unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and so many other Americans, I didn’t evolve on the issue. I don’t remember a time in my life when I thought gay people were entitled to fewer rights than I was. I don’t think same-sex marriage is a threat to the institution. […]
I never saw a conflict between conservative values of less government intrusion and personal freedom and supporting marriage equality. There is no freedom more personal than deciding who to commit your life to. Government shouldn’t mandate whom we choose to love.
Of course, her views are not so strong to keep her from identifying with a backwards political party. Nor are they strong enough to survive religious claims:
The religious freedom battle is just beginning. There are decent people of good faith, people who are not bigots who have deeply held religious views against same-sex marriage. They legitimately feel their religious freedoms are at risk.
Some of these people are also my friends and relatives. My 74-year-old Nicaraguan Catholic father cannot get himself to accept same-sex marriage. God knows, I’ve tried.
I know my dad. It is not in his nature to discriminate against anybody — well, maybe with the exception of communists. My dad cannot get his arms around the idea of two men walking down the aisle. His views are shaped by his culture and guided by his religion.
I’m sad to say that it is in her father’s “nature to discriminate”, because he in fact discriminates. And that prejudiced people are, actually, bigots. Of course, one can always modify the language to suit their inclinations.
In a similarly Orwellian parlance, she also suggests that supporting civil rights should also entail supporting the rights of people to infringe on said rights when it’s convenient:
It is time for everyone to remember that tolerance is a two-way street. We must be respectful of people’s rights — that includes the right to marry who you choose, and also the right to practice the religion that you choose. These two rights can co-exist. […]
Our society is so politicized and polarized, reaching agreement can be hard to imagine. I urge both sides of this issue to take a deep breath and reflect on how we can live and respect each other’s freedoms, rights and beliefs.
Navarro suggests she’s among the enlightened fringe of her party, which is only true if one were to consider the likes of Ted Cruz or Bobby Jindal to represent mainstream Republican opinion (which I happen to believe is untrue). Rather, she more or less represents the so-called moderate Republican view: It’s clear the gays are running the show now, so let’s not discriminate against them overtly, but rather frame such discrimination as a religious prerogative, thereby painting those who support civil rights as discriminating against religion. It’s kind of pathological. Personally, I’d prefer an honest bigot over a slimy and deceitful one any day.
As for the argument itself, I have no reason to believe that same-sex marriage and religious freedom are either compatible or incompatible. That is, “religious freedom” is an incoherent notion that requires further explanation. The reason for this is simple. The notion of “religion” is poorly defined. If I were to start a cult in which my followers adhered to the principle that bashing people’s kneecaps was a sign of respect that had to be exercised fortnightly, would performing this act constitute an exercise of “religious freedom”?
What if my religion mandated the regular consumption of children? Embezzlement? Insurrection? Speed limit denialism?
It seems to me that there is no principled way by which one can distinguish such a hypothetical religion from whatever religion that Navarro is referring to. In each case, the religion plainly conflicts with law — and if we’re not all to be ruled by fringe beliefs, then this is unacceptable.
On the other hand, exercising religious freedom is compatible with civil rights, if one’s religion doesn’t provide for infringing upon said rights. Accordingly, “religious freedom” cannot be understood as absolute — but contingent upon not causing harm to others, or otherwise breaking the law, which is to be expected so long as joining some club shouldn’t give one carte blanche.
Those who are worried about their religious freedom might do well to reconsider their views on freedom generally, gaining some appreciation of the interaction between one’s personal freedom and the freedom of all those around them. Without a reasonable understanding of this interaction, society itself is surely impossible.