Rick Warren, the Invocation, and Separation of Church and State

I have to admit that I was a bit upset at the announcement that the President Elect had picked Rick Warren to give the invocation, but I did not send an email in protest.  Why?  Well, mostly because I wasn’t sure if this were really a big deal or if  in 50 years it would turn out to be a brilliant move. 

I know that Rachel Maddow called it “Obama’s first big mistake.”  The Nation summarizes

Maddow asked why Obama would want to bestow such an honor on an individual who has compared abortion to the Holocaust, same-sex relationships to pedophilia and incest and has openly advocated for the assassination of foreign leaders.

But I was still with San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom who thought it was politics as usual and disappointing, but not a reason to stop supporting President Elect Obama.

Richard Kim  writing in the Nation has espoused a really interesting idea:  Let’s pressure Warren and Obama to join forces and promote civil unions which they both claim to support. 

I understand the left’s sense of betrayal, but this reaction to Obama’s choice is off the mark. It’s a sign of how much we have conceded to the religious right that almost nobody asked why there should be an invocation at all.

What has happened to separation of church and state?   Kim’s idea for those of us who support gay marriage:

But here’s the bright spot for gays and lesbians: there’s actually common ground that they might find with Obama and Pastor Rick–it’s just not on religious terms. Both say they support full equal rights for gays and lesbians. Let’s test this premise by pushing forward a federal civil union bill that guarantees all the rights of marriage for same-sex couples, as Obama has suggested in his platform. Perhaps over time, some straights will want in on this God-free institution too, and we’ll have civil unions for everyone. Then Warren will be free to sanctify as marriages only the unions he likes. And I’ll be free to sanctify mine by whatever idol I choose, or to choose not to at all.

According to my search on European Marriage laws there are four basic categories:

  • marriage
    Where the rights, responsibilities and legal recognition given to same-sex couples who marry is the same as those for married different-sex couples.
  • registered partnership
    Where same-sex couples have the possibility to enter formal registration that provides them with a virtually equivalent status, rights, responsibilities and legal recognition to that of married couples (with some possible exceptions). This form of registration is often exclusively open to same-sex partners; however some countries have also made it available to different-sex partners.
  • registered cohabitation
    Where a number of enumerated rights, responsibilities and legal recognition are given to couples who register their cohabitation. This form of registration is oftentimes available to both same-sex and different-sex couples and requires that the couples prove that they have lived together to a determined period of time before they can accede to their registration.
  • unregistered cohabitation
    Where very limited rights and responsibilities are automatically accrued after a specified period of cohabitation. These rights are almost always available to unmarried different-sex couples as well.

Various European countries have adopted various combinations of these, often offering choices to both straight and same-sex couples.

I found an old (2003) American Prospect article  discussing this.  E. J. Graff wrote

But of course, marriage is not just a legal instrument; it’s also a symbolically powerful institution, a religious and political battleground whose rules and borders have been fought over for millennia. Each country that has tackled this issue has had to figure out how to help same-sex partners according to its own traditions. Which means that looking at civil marriage worldwide offers a number of models that differ dramatically from our own, and from each other.

Those nations that have gone furthest share at least two out of three key elements: profound cultural, political or constitutional commitments to social justice; legal pragmatism about regulating couples, whether or not they’ve said “I do”; and genuine separation of church and state.

The French Revolution stripped priests of any legal power over marriage, a concept spread by Napoleon’s conquests across much of the continent (and beyond). From Germany to Belgium, couples must take God-free marriage vows in city hall — and only afterward, if they so choose, may they walk to a church, synagogue or mosque for a second wedding. Europeans are often shocked to find that, in the United States, ministers, rabbis, imams and priests can wave the magic wands of both church and state at the same time. The result: Europeans grasp more easily than Americans that changes in civil marriage make no incursions into religious marriage.

Expanding Richard Kim’s idea, lets go for civil marriage with full rights for both gays and straights.  This could be like a registered partnership.  We could make a civil marriage required for filing joint tax returns and other civil recognition.  If you then want to get married in a church one can do so.  Let’s separate church and state.

How about it Pastor Rick?  President Elect Obama?  Are you up for the challenge?

3 thoughts on “Rick Warren, the Invocation, and Separation of Church and State

  1. I’m sorry, but since when is the Nation magazine considered corporate media. I hold no brief for militant fundamentalists of whatever religion, but I think Richard Kim is right: Let’s call Rick Warren’s bluff.

  2. Warren is lying. He doesn’t support civil unions. He wants the death penalty for lgbt people.

    You have to remember that the public face of these militant fundamentalists is much more reasonable than what they say among themselves.

    I went to high school in Orange County, CA where Warren’s megachurch/box store is. I know what those fanatics are really like. Don’t be fooled by the corporate media propaganda.

  3. Pingback: free elements | Digg hot tags

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