August 2004
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Day August 8, 2004

The Kerry campaign’s handling of religion

An interesting discussion over at California Yankee describes Kerry’s “religion problem,” as the campaign’s heavy-handed efforts to campaign on faith backfire. Rev. Brenda Peterson resigned under pressure after only 13 days after it became public that she’d signed an amicus brief on behalf of Michael Newdow in his attempt to have “under God” stricken from the Pledge of Allegiance. California Yankee does a good job of describing how detrimental this is to Kerry’s campaign. In this post, I describe how I’d like to see Kerry handle the “religion question” in this campaign.

First off, the DNC and campaign should have stood behind Peterson and not allowed the discussion to be driven by the Catholic League. Peterson was quite clearly making a statement of conscience in the amicus brief. Those who believe, possibly based on second hand accounts, that Peterson shows “infinitely more concern for the sensibilities of atheists like Newdow than it does for the 90 percent of Americans who believe in God” (1) haven’t read the brief in question.

What’s really at stake in the controversy over gay marriage?

The fight over gay marriage continued this week, as King County Superior Court Judge William Downing ruled that Washington’s DOMA was unconstitutional. If the Washington State Supreme Court upholds the ruling, Washington would become the second state (after Massachusetts) to allow same-sex marriages. Republicans and social conservatives continue to fight back: in Washington State, a constitutional amendment will be introduced during the next legislative session, and nine other states will vote on similar amendments this fall. And it seems likely that many of them will pass, even if a Federal amendment doesn’t stand a chance.

Opponents of gay marriage continue to portray the question as one of democratic will versus “activist judges out to impose their will on society” (1). Stanley Kurtz, writing in National Review Online, describes the “the untiring efforts of gay-marriage advocates and liberal judges to circumvent the democratic process” (2). Conservative talking points universally portray opponents of gay marriage as upholding morality and doing it via our hallowed “democratic process.” Those who support gay marriage are portrayed as unprincipled, immoral, and willing to stoop to “forcing” gay marriage on the nation by judicial decree, thus circumventing the democratic process.

As a nation, we do ourselves a grave disservice by allowing the controversy to be shaped by this caricature of the real issues involved. For most, the controversy is “about” conserving the traditional Judeo-Christian view of marriage. But regardless of the outcome, this controversy is also about more than simply the definition of marriage, or even the injection of religious morality into public law.

The fight over gay marriage is also a fight over our deepest civic principles.