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This I Vote: Why I Don’t Plan to Vote on Prop.8

NOTE OF SINCERE APOLOGY FROM THE AUTHOR: On October 27 I committed a terrible blunder and accidentally deleted not only my article (which I wanted to temporarily take down) but the conversation thread that included other people’s comments as well. I have been working with others to try recover the deleted comments but so far without success (although we did find a Google “snapshot” of the original posting). In the event that we are not able to locate a cached version of the comments, I want to apologize to all who made valuable contributions and whose perspectives have now been lost. Hopefully contributors will be able to pick up the conversation if they feel there is more to be said, perhaps viewing this as an opportunity to refocus on the theme I had actually hoped to champion: finding creative “third ways” to remain in civil conversation and community with people one has fundamental disagreements with.
According to a poll released Wednesday by the Public Policy Institute of California, Proposition 8, which would amend California’s Constitution to disallow same-sex marriage, is likely to be defeated on November 4. The Church State Council tells us that if this should happen our religious liberties will be imperiled. According to Adventists Against Proposition 8, the real threat to religious liberty lies in the attempt by religiously motivated groups to enforce their own theological understandings on others in the secular political realm. It seems increasingly clear to me, however, that for Adventists there can be no winning side in this debate. On November 4, I plan to abstain from voting either for or against Proposition 8. In the event that it is of any interest or use to others, here are the reasons why I have come to this view:
1. I fully support the civil and human rights of same-sex couples, including the same entitlements as heterosexual couples such as equal tax benefits, the right to adoption, healthcare, etc; however,
2. I do not believe that it is a civil or human right to have one’s private sexual identity affirmed or recognized or sanctioned or sanctified or codified or categorized or validated by the state; and,
3. I also believe it is necessary to preserve the right of religious communities to have their own distinctive institutions—and distinctive words to describe these institutions—without encroachment by the government.
A “No” vote on Proposition 8 seems to me to violate both numbers 2 and 3 above. The word “marriage” for most people in America continues to invoke not only a legal status but also a particular set of historical, cultural, and religious understandings (including the view that marriage within our society ought to be restricted to two persons). In this perspective, legislative overriding of traditional cultural and religious norms and redefinition of the word along more avowedly “secular” lines marks a troubling encroachment of the state into matters it knows not whereof.
A “Yes” vote on Proposition 8, however, seems to me to violate both numbers 1 and 2 above. As long as non-religious heterosexual marriages are recognized by the state without controversy, religious communities have no basis for objecting to legalized same-sex “marriage” on religious grounds. In this perspective, legislative imposition of traditional cultural and religious understandings on non-believers—or upon believers with different beliefs—marks a troubling encroachment of the state into matters it knows not whereof.
How, then, to cut the Gordian knot? If we truly support separation of church and state, I submit, we should be agitating not for the collapsing of civil and theological understandings of “marriage”, as both pro and contra positions do in their own ways, but for two distinct institutions: 1) “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships”, which would be the only unions recognized by the state and would be exactly the same for all couples, regardless of their genders; and 2) marriage as a theological sacrament, which would involve different restrictions, meanings, and obligations depending on the theological understandings and beliefs of different religious communities.
Let the state be truly neutral in its language, let this language be the same for heterosexual and same-sex couples alike, and let this language be something other than the language religious traditions have long claimed as their own. Religious communities can then work out for themselves how inclusive or exclusive their particular belief systems can be on the question of same-sex marriage.
This position is not, of course, an option on this year’s ballot, and many Adventists will feel compelled to vote either for or against Proposition 8 on the basis of what they think is the lesser evil. I respect their personal decisions. Conscientious refusal to vote can, however, also be a creative and responsible political action, particularly if one shares one’s reasons for abstaining with others. And perhaps the most compelling witness Adventists can still make in the political realm, I would argue, is to refuse to be trapped in the false dichotomies of America’s culture wars.

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