David McConkey - Columnist, Consultant, Citizen
Columnist. Consultant. Citizen.

Religion and Values in the Public Square

Brandon Sun, June 4, 2012 - David McConkey

U.S. President Barack Obama created a bit of a stir recently with his coming out in favour of gay marriage. The controversy also provides a beautiful follow-up to my last column, which was about religion and values in the public square.

I had noted a deep cultural divide in the U.S. (and to a lesser extent, in Canada). To simplify, on the one side are religious traditionalists. On the other side, secular progressives.

This division has also been identified as splitting along a fault line of the defining principles of “authority” and “nurturing.” Again, a simplification, but very descriptive.

Gay marriage is a great example of this divide and how we go about choosing our moral values.

Religious traditionalists value authority: the authority of religious officials, institutions, and texts – like the Qur’an, Bible, or Book of Mormon. Conclusion: homosexuality is wrong and thus gay marriage is bad.

As American pastor and politician Mike Huckabee says, gay marriage goes against “indisputable Biblical teaching about marriage.” Huckabee, also a Fox News TV host, points out that gay marriage breaks with “5,000 years of recorded human history.”

On the other side, secular progressives value nurturing. Learn from what others have to say. Listen to your own heart. And look at the research: during those 5,000 years of history, marriage has not always been so rosy, especially for women. Conclusion: gay marriage is good.

Obama described how his own views on gay marriage evolved. In his recent coming-out TV interview, Obama explained how he had listened and learned from friends, family, neighbours, his own staff, and members of the armed services.

Obama also mentioned that he had learned from talking with his two daughters, Malia, 13, and Sasha, 10. The girls had told their father about friends of theirs whose parents were same-sex couples.

Critics of Obama seized on this last point.

“Nice,” sneered Michael Coren, Canadian conservative columnist and Roman Catholic apologist. If the daughters thought some rock star was an “awesome cute guy,” would Obama then award him the Congressional Medal of Honour?

Over at Fox News, Huckabee said that Obama had endorsed gay marriage “because his daughters think it's a good idea.” Like Coren, Huckabee also ridiculed the notion that parents could learn from their children.

“Gee, when my kids were in junior high, they thought it would be a good idea to skip school, have pie for breakfast, and stay up until midnight on school nights,” Huckabee said.

Authority – and the word of the father – is absolute in the traditional religious family. Children should not question, in fact, they have nothing worthwhile to say. 

The secular progressive family, on the other hand, is open, sharing, respectful, where children are encouraged to speak. Nurturing.

The U.S. election also featured another news item at the same time, this one concerning Obama’s rival, Mitt Romney. When Romney was a teenager, he and some others bullied a fellow student, who was gay. 

Now, of course, plenty of leeway must be given in judging Romney by his youthful pranks. But, the story does illustrate the dark side of this issue. Because of religious attitudes, many gays and lesbians have endured misery and despair; some have committed suicide. 

Gay marriage is important. It extends the dignity of inclusion to more of our fellow citizens. It expands our moral imagination.

As commentator Andrew Sullivan wrote in his Newsweek “first gay president” cover story, “The point of the gay-rights movement, after all, is not about helping people be gay. It is about creating the space for people to be themselves.”

And Canada has something very important to teach the U.S. We have found that the legalizing of gay marriage does not diminish straight marriage. (Same-sex marriage has been legal in Canada since 2005, and in most provinces since before that.)

What about the future? We are in for much more debate and change. But even when rights are won, they can be taken away. The right to same-sex marriage, for example, was ended in California by a referendum in that state in 2008.

There will be a continuing challenge for religions that are not only opposed to gay rights, but also opposed to equal rights for women and men. Among these are most kinds of Protestantism, as well as Roman Catholicism, Mormonism, and Islam.
As for the immediate future in the U.S. –  if Romney is elected president, Obama’s gay marriage endorsement will come to naught.

* * * *
See also:  

Ready for a Mormon President?

Role of Religion in War and Peace

The Evolving Nature of Belief

Rights and Religions

Maybe a Little Fox News Would Liven Things Up

Citizen Active



David McConkey,
Brandon, Manitoba
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Some Reviewed Books:

The War on Drugs:
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The Atheist Muslim:
A Journey from Religion to Reason


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Stranger Than We Can Imagine:
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Why Islam Needs a Reformation Now


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Islam and the Future of Tolerance:
A Dialogue

Islam Future

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Extraordinary Canadians:
Nellie McClung

Extraordinary Canadians Nellie Mcclung

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The Greatest Show on Earth:
The Evidence for Evolution

Greatest Show on Earth

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