Last Wednesday, in an interview with Robin Roberts, President Obama stated that he supported same-sex marriage. For Ludger Viefhues-Bailey, however, the way that President Obama framed his support of same-sex marriage was as important as the announcement itself. Viefhues-Bailey is the
Distinguished Professor of Philosophy, Gender, and Culture and the Director of the Gender and Women Studies Program at Le Moyne College, and the author of Between a Man and a Woman?: Why Conservatives Oppose Same-Sex Marriage.
While the President and Mr. Romney disagree on whether or not it is right to extend marriage rights to same-sex couples, they agree on another point: the battle over marriage reform is a battle over American values and as such it is a battle over the kind of Christianity that should guide our polity.
In his interview with ABC news, Mr. Obama recounted that young people – including his daughters and even young Republican college students – “believe in equality” if it comes to marriage. While he endorses this belief of the young, Mr. Obama turns to religion to explain his and Michele’s position: “When we think about our faith, the thing at root that we think about is, not only Christ sacrificing himself on our behalf, but it’s also the Golden Rule, you know, treat others the way you would want to be treated.”
Thus, Mr. Obama does not simply reiterate a constitutional or secular moral argument for giving same-sex couples the right to commit to each other in matrimony. Rather, his support for treating same-sex couples equally before the law is grounded in a specific Christian conviction. Respecting the claims of same-sex couples for equal protection before the law is the right thing to do because it is the Christian thing to do.
Christianity for the Obamas is, “at the root,” about Christ’s sacrificial atonement and about the Golden Rule, thus combining a universalizing appeal to ethical equality with a (at least potentially) limited appeal to Christian salvation. Confessing Christ as the sole savior for humankind should go hand in hand with following his commandment that Christian Americans should treat all with equal ethical care. Doctrinal differences should not overrule Christian ethical universalism.
“And I think that’s what we try to impart to our kids and that’s what motivates me as president and I figure the most consistent I can be in being true to those precepts, the better I’ll be as a as a dad and a husband and, hopefully, the better I’ll be as president.”
While Mr. Obama’s endorsement of marriage rights for same-sex couples is a matter of personal opinion, his religious convictions are the basis for better governance in general. The more truly Christian he is, the better he will be as a president.
Mr. Romney presented a very similar theory of Christian governance in his commencement speech at the evangelical Liberty University. “People of different faiths, like yours and mine, sometimes wonder where we can meet in common purpose, when there are so many differences in creed and theology. Surely the answer is that we can meet in service, in shared moral convictions about our nation stemming from a common worldview.” Mr. Romney identifies this shared worldview as America’s “Judeo-Christian tradition, with its vision of the goodness and possibilities of every life,” a tradition that for him includes Mormonism.
Like the president, Mr. Romney contrasts divisive creedal differences (for example the fact that unlike his Evangelical audience the Governor believes not in a Trinitarian Godhead but in a divine heterosexual couple) with a unifying moral code: here, the national importance of restricting marriage to heterosexuals and of a “culture of life” that is mainly concerned with criminalizing abortions.
Both Mr. Obama and Mr. Romney agree that American politics, sexual and otherwise, must be grounded in some version of Christianity. The president champions a Christianity that (certain creedal differences aside) is at its root about fairness, emphasizing that we are created equal before God and the law. Mr. Romney’s Christianity (certain creedal differences aside) is about respecting an allegedly traditional heterosexual order of family as the basis of a nation that functions because we as citizens are substantially different. Men, women, rich or poor: The goal is not to equalize these differences but to make sure that each segment of society does their job. If men are men and women are women, if the rich enjoy their riches and the poor are hardworking, then the nation will thrive.
As for November, it seems that we have to chose between a Christian America based on the values of fairness or one based on those of stratification, heterosexual and economic. But Christian America it is, whether red or blue!