Seeking for Righteousness

The Personal Blog of Kaimi Wenger

Mitt Romney and Gay Marriage — A Hypothetical

The inimitable Greg Call inquires what I would do in the following hypothetical:

Your name is Mitt and you are a Mormon stake president (I don’t know his calling) and governor of a Northeastern state, say, Massachusetts. The high court of the State ruled that the legislature must pass a law dealing with the denial to gays of their fundamental rights to get married under the State constitution. The legislature responds by rapidly passing a gay

marriage bill. It’s now on your desk awaiting your signature. What will you do and will you lose any sleep? By the way, someone named Gordon is on line 2 . . .

(Note that the actual governor of Massachusetts has stated on the record that he will sign a bill if the legislature sends him one, but he also supports a constitutional amendment which would prevent gay marriage).

The short answer is that, if I am the governor, I sign the bill (whether or not it says “marriage,” rather than “civil union” or similar alternative) and lose no sleep over it. My job as governor is to execute the laws and constitution. The Supreme Court has mandated a solution for a denial of a constitutional right, and I must perform my duty.

The longer answer is that, in this case, I see no reason an LDS governor cannot sign into law a bill allowing gay marriage. The governor is not going to be entering into gay marriage himself, he is going to be allowing others to do so. The governor should not be expected to impose his religious beliefs on the state. In performing his duties, it is not unusual to assume that he may need to sign bills allowing others to perform acts which are contrary to church teaching, such as authorization of alcohol consumption.

Of course, performance of duty may not be a reason to sign laws that egregiously harm others. If a governor has a duty to sign a bill segregating or persecuting a group, he should consider resigning rather than signing such bill. However, the types of bills which would require resignation are a very narrow group, and I am not convinced that an authorization of gay marriage is one of them.

And on the personal level, reconciling church beliefs with such a law, my feelings would, I imagine, be much the same as Mario Cuomo when he discussed to what extent he considered his religious beliefs in his work as a governor. One speech of Cuomo’s, which I liked, makes some very good points, and I’m going to quote it at some length here, because I think that he grapples with this issue and his insight is very valuable. Cuomo writes:

I protect my right to be a Catholic by preserving your right to believe as a Jew, a Protestant, or nonbeliever, or as anything else you choose. We know that the price of seeking to force our beliefs on others is that they might someday force theirs on us.

. . .

There are those who say . . . that by history and practice of our people we were intended to be—and should be—a Christian country in law. But where would that leave the nonbelievers? And whose Christianity would be law, yours or mine?

. . .

My church and my conscience require me to believe certain things about divorce, birth control, and abortion. My church does not order me—under pain of sin or expulsion—to pursue my salvific mission according to a precisely defined political plan. . . . As Catholics, my wife and I were enjoined never to use abortion to destroy the life we created. We thought church doctrine was clear on this. . . . But not everyone in our society agrees. And those who don’t—those who endorse legalized abortions—aren’t a ruthless, callous alliance of anti-Christians determined to overthrow our moral standards. In many cases, the proponents of legal abortion are the very people who have worked with Catholics to realize the goals of social justice set out in papal encyclicals: the American Lutheran Church, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Presbyterian Church in the United States, B’nai B’rith Women, the Women of the Episcopal Church. There are just a few of the religious organizations that don’t share the church’s position on abortion.

Certainly, we should not be forced to mold Catholic morality to conform to disagreement by non-Catholics, however sincere or severe their disagreement. Our bishops should be teachers, no pollsters. They should not change what we Catholics believe in order to ease our consciences or please our friends or protect the church from criticism.

. . .

I repeat, there is no church teaching that mandates the best political course for making our belief everyone’s rule, for spreading this part of our Catholicism. There is neither an encyclical nor a catechism that spells out a political strategy for achieving legislative goals.

. . .

Are we asking government to make criminal what we believe to be sinful because we ourselves can’t stop committing the sin? The failure here is not Caesar’s. This failure is our failure, the failure of the entire people of God.

. . .

Better than any law or rule or threat of punishment would be the moving strength of our own good example, demonstrating our lack of hypocrisy, proving the beauty and worth of our instruction.

. . .

We can live and practice the morality Christ gave us, maintaining his truth in this world, struggling to embody his love, practicing it especially where that love is most needed, among the poor and the weak and the dispossessed. Not just by trying to make laws for others to live by, but by living the laws already written for us by God, in our hearts and our minds.

We can be fully Catholic, proudly, totally at ease with ourselves, a people in the world, transforming it, a light to this nation. Appealing to the best in our people, not the worst. Persuading, not coercing. Leading people to truth by love. And still, all the while, respecting and enjoying our unique pluralistic democracy. And we can do it even as politicians.

I believe that, in Mitt Romney’s place, I would weigh my religious beliefs similarly. And such weighing would, I believe, lead me to sign the hypothetical bill.

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November 19, 2003 - Posted by | Uncategorized

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