Friday, June 12, 2009

Candor and The Covenant

from an interview by Jennifer Skalka

of the HotLine Online section of the National Journal

Bishop Robinson: ON OBAMA~~

"...a number of us are beginning to be impatient with him."


. . . JS: You testified before New Hampshire lawmakers to advocate for the gay marriage bill that was passed last week by the state House and Senate, and I'm curious, broadly to start, what you think of New Hampshire's decision to become the sixth state to allow gay marriage.

GR: It's very exciting to have walked this bill all the way through. To a lot of people it seemed a bit of a tortuous journey. But in the end, I think we took a really good tact -- and that was true of the House, the Senate and the governor -- which was to restate what was already true in the law, but people needed to be reassured about it. Which was to restate the protections for religious institutions not to have to participate in same-gender marriages if they didn't want to and if it went against their beliefs. And I believe that that freed a lot of people, who are not even necessarily at all comfortable with the notion of gay marriage, to support this bill for what it is, which is an action of the state, not of the church.

And I argued that indeed for religious institutions to impose their will against the secular state was an imposition of the church on the state. We're normally worried about the state impinging on the rights of religion, but in this case I believe it was religion impinging on the rights of the state. And that seemed to win the day. And I couldn't be more delighted. . . .

JS: Let me ask you about Pres. Obama. There's much consternation bubbling up in the gay community that he's not visible on issues of interest to the community. Many say, for example, they'd like him to do more in trying to retract the military's 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell' policy. And yet he's been awfully quiet since taking office on this and other issues. Do you feel like he's losing some goodwill among gays and lesbians?

GR: I think that a number of us are beginning to be impatient with him. The argument that he's got other things on his plate really doesn't hold water since he has certainly demonstrated an ability to multitask and to tackle very, very important issues at the same time. Also, I just saw a poll -- I think it was yesterday or the day before -- showing enormous support for an end to 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' even amongst the military, even amongst conservatives, amongst Republicans, not to mention the general public. I still believe that he is going to move forward on that and on the Defense of Marriage Act and so on, but I do think patience is wearing thin, and I think it's time for him to begin to give this some of his time and energy.

I know that he's put together a study committee around 'Don't Ask, Don't Tell,' and I don't think he would have done that if he hadn't been assured of what the verdict would be. I don't know when they are due to report, but certainly when they do would be an opportune time for him to act. I think he did that so as not to fall within the same danger zone that Bill Clinton did when he tried to do it by fiat.

JS: But politically, what's holding him back at this point. He has such an enormous mandate for his agenda and the Democrats so dominate Washington. Why do you think he's holding back?

GR: I have no idea. I don't think there is anything politically to be lost here. And I think it would only solidify his base of support in the gay and lesbian community. ... We're not asking him at this point to be open in his support of gay marriage. We're talking about a couple policies whose time really has come to be over. . .

JS: And just finally for those in Red State America who might be watching what is happening in several New England states and Iowa, what would your message to them be on this issue?

GR: I think my message would be that religious people who oppose this idea have nothing to fear from same-gender marriage equality. That no one will be asked to do anything that is against their conscience. On the other hand, let's remember that marriage is a civil act. That becomes quite clear when a marriage, let's say, that was performed in a church or a synagogue or a mosque comes apart. And the couple seeks a divorce. They don't go back to the church or synagogue or mosque. They go to the courts. Because it is a legal and civil action that was done.

It's gotten confused in this country because we have deputized clergy of all kinds to be and act as agents of the state in marriage. And so people don't know when the civil action begins and ends and when the religious part begins and ends. So I think this is a very helpful division between what the state does and what religious organizations do. And when once you understand that, you understand that allowing gay and lesbian people to have access to civil marriage has absolutely no affect on religious groups. And they have nothing to fear from this movement.


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