A marriage of values
It is possible to reach a compromise between individual beliefs and legal action when it comes to gay marriage
Last Sunday on “60 Minutes,” Arnold Schwarzenegger gave an account of his performing gay marriages while he was governor of California. He told the interviewer that he married 2 couples in his office, an action that would seem to indicate Schwarzenegger is in favor of gay marriage. But when he was asked outright about his stance on the issue, he gave some ambiguous responses: “I always said that I have nothing against people doing what they want to do … I personally always said that marriage is between a man and a woman, but I would never enforce my will on people … If they want to get married, let them get married.”
This isn’t necessarily a radical view. A common argument that has been used to advocate for legal recognition of gay marriages is that such an allowance would only impact gay people who want to get married; all heterosexual citizens, including those holding different convictions about the definition of marriage, would not be required to participate in the ceremonies, nor would they be affected by them in any way.
But even though Schwarzenegger’s comments would seem to indicate that he supports a philosophy of “to each his own,” clearly his actions show that he has gone a step further than that. He acted as the conduit that made the ceremonies happen, in these two cases.
We can compare this case to one that took place in New York last year. After that state passed its Marriage Equality Act allowing same-sex marriage, a town clerk, Rose Marie Belforti, decided that she would not sign marriage licenses for gay couples due to her religious beliefs, and instead arranged for a deputy to sign them. When a lesbian couple came to Belforti’s office to procure a marriage license, they were asked to make an appointment to come back at a time when a deputy would be present to give a signature, but the couple took issue with the request. This case turned into a clash between the legal obligation of a civic employee to uphold all state laws, and the claim that the state must accommodate the religious beliefs of individuals.
But in California during Schwarzenegger’s governorship, he made the decision to marry the two gay couples even though he has similarly professed that he believes marriage is between a man and a woman. Why did he not personally oppose, like Belforti? Maybe Arnold Schwarzenegger is on to something that we’ve been missing thus far.
Perhaps we are too fixated on the phrase “pro-gay marriage.” We are caught up with the idea that there are two options for our beliefs — that marriage can be only between a man and a woman or that marriage can be between anyone. Many activists think that in order to achieve marriage equality for everyone, we must change people’s ideologies so that they all hold the latter belief. But is that really necessary? Schwarzenegger has proven that it is not. His actions confirm that it is possible to assume a position that is a kind of “middle way.” You do not necessarily have to change your personal definition of marriage in order to favor a world where people can make their own decisions without constraint, and abide by the laws that in some states have already established marriage equality for everyone.
As for the aforementioned case in New York, there had been two other clerks that chose to quit their jobs rather than sign gay marriage licenses, and some argue that Rose Marie Belforti should have made that decision. Instead, she chose to keep her job and authorize a deputy to perform a duty that she felt violated her personal convictions. The People for the American Way foundation condemned Belforti’s refusal to sign marriage licenses for gay couples, while she argued that the state should accommodate her religious beliefs. By assigning the task to a deputy, Belforti was still allowing the marriage process to take place as it should under the law, and this compromise is progress in and of itself. Civic processes can be made legal or illegal, but the law has no jurisdiction over people’s personal beliefs. Some might say that the logistical delay of making an appointment with the deputy was too significant of an impediment for the gay couples, but in this situation it may be an inconvenience that we should accept in order to even reap the benefits the of Marriage Equality Act, because we live in a country in which there exist vastly different and persisting beliefs.
If we continue to denounce actions like Belforti’s for not meeting the liberal ideology, we will not be able to move forward. People’s personal convictions do change and evolve, but on a large scale, not overnight. Our objective should be equality now, for everyone. And to achieve this we must be willing to see compromise, to accept that people can maintain ideologically conservative beliefs while still making marriage equality logistically possible. Let us follow Schwarzenegger’s example and support the decision to facilitate the legal process of equality, despite inherent differences of opinion.
Katherine Ripley is an opinion editor for The Cavalier Daily. She can be reached at email@example.com.