WASHINGTON – The issue of same-sex "marriage" provokes strong emotions and actions on both sides of the debate with little common ground seemingly to be found. But on Thursday the beginning of an unlikely understanding appeared to emerge at a panel discussion that included Christian conservatives and a gay activist.
All five panelists at the Family Research Council event, with the exception of the gay activist, were against California's ruling to legalize same-sex "marriage." At the end of the discussion, no one had changed their position although both sides felt they could better understand the issue from the other's point of view.
On the traditional marriage side, some panelists listed legal problems, including infringement on religious liberty, which resulted from California's recent ruling that legalized same-sex "marriage."
Chief Counsel Benjamin Bull of the Alliance Defense Fund gave examples of California churches that have been sued for refusing to perform same-sex weddings. He also questioned how California's same-sex "marriage" ruling will affect state clerks that do not want to grant marriage licenses to homosexual couples because of their religious beliefs.
"What is the problem with the California same-sex 'marriage' case?" Bull asked. "There are lots of problems with it that are huge and profound.
"One of them is what radical, homosexual-activists will do with the new institution of same-sex 'marriage' and use it as a battering ram across America to blast open new areas that ultimately diminish the rights of Christians to express their faith in their lives and how they live."
Bull, who has defended the religious freedom of many Christians in gay rights cases, contends that in the end a person's faith will only be a "personalized, individualized" faith and that you can "think about it but you can't even talk about it" if the homosexual agenda continues to spread.
Yet he softened after hearing Professor Chai R. Feldblum of Georgetown University Law Center speak about the issue from the other perspective. He had expressed eagerness to talk more with the gay activist after hearing her moderate tone.
Feldblum, who described herself as a practicing lesbian, said she is against the gay community's lack of respect for religious people's values. As a former Orthodox Jew and daughter of a rabbi, Feldblum said she understands being religious means engaging in certain conducts.
"My sense of being religious completely intertwined with conduct that I did as a religious Jew," she said. "If someone had told me that I could be a religiously firm Jew but I couldn't engage in certain conduct or I had to engage in certain conduct – like I had to turn on the light on Shabbos (weekly Sabbath or day of rest in Judaism) – 'What is the big deal you are just turning on the light on Shabbos?'
"Ok, let me tell you for a firm Jew if you do not turn on the light for Shabbos. That's a sin," she said. "Nor do you facilitate someone else who is Jewish to turn on the light. That's a sin."
As a result of her own former religious background, Feldblum said she "can't stand" those in the gay community that say people of faith should "just get over it" when it comes to performing a legal action that goes against their values, such as a county clerk who believes homosexuality is a sin making a marriage license for a gay couple.
"To say just get over it to me demonstrates a complete lack of respect for what that person is feeling in terms of their sense that they are facilitating sin," Feldblum said. "You do not say to someone who feels they are facilitating sin 'Get over it.'"
But on the other hand, she said homosexuals feel humiliated and hurt when a county clerk or a facility refuses to serve them because they are gay.
"Can you imagine if you are a black person and it is like, "Ok, well no, I don't serve black people but this person will," Feldblum said.
She called for a discussion involving both sides to find a way to accommodate both parties so that gay people can have their rights recognized without the cost of "crushing" the liberty of religious people.
"Gay people should understand religious people and religious people should understand gay people more than they do now," Feldblum states.
And if one's answer to the religious liberty conflict is to stop same-sex "marriage" then it will be hard to have a reasonable conversation, she said, as opposed to saying, "We understand it is hard for you when you're conduct is suppressed because your relationships aren't recognized, but now let's have a conversation about what that will mean to us as religious people."
Several times in her talk, Feldblum emphasized that the views she presented on the issue are her own and not the "norm" in the gay rights movement.
The FRC-hosted event opened with the release of a new poll on the political impact of a state marriage amendment. The national survey, conducted by Wilson Research Strategies, found the majority of voters, 58 percent, indicated they would be more likely to vote for a candidate that supports state marriage amendments that define marriage as the union between one man and one woman.
Others on the panel on Thursday included Kevin J. "Seamus" Hasson, founder, chairman of the Board, and president of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty; Professor Teresa Stanton Collett, University of St. Thomas School of Law; and Nathan J. Diament, director of the Institute for Public Affairs of the Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America.