The explosion of news stories last week as the issue of same sex marriages entered the presidential debate season was expected and dramatic. The inches of copy and air time devoted to this issue was appalling. Only in the U.S. can a matter which should be left to personal as well as religious preference become a major election year football. Like abortion rights and the right to die U.S. policy makers actually believe that these moral and ethical issues need to continue to be part of the public policy agenda.
This “firestorm” needs to be juxtaposed with the discussions developing over France’s new President, Francois Hollande, and his non-marital relationship with France’s new first lady, Valerie Trierweiler. Unlike the U.S., as was the case with former French President Francois Mitterand, for the French people the politics of the nation is not affected by the personal life of a President.
The U.S. continues to have as well, a selective choice over which moral and social norms ought to be institutionalized into public policy and which ones can be ignored. Fundamentalists can attack abortion rights and same sex marriage but children born out of wedlock or religious intolerance of Mormons, among others, is acceptable. Religions articulate the tenets of their belief, but when it becomes part of evaluating a candidate’s qualifications for office or a rationale for public policy it seems that the French and most Europeans seem to understand the issue more clearly.
As the New York Times reported of Hollande and Trierweiler, their major political problem will be how they will deal with a state visit to Saudi Arabia where unmarried cohabitation is not accepted. As was the case with Dominique Strauss-Kahn, for the French if it was established that the woman whom he engaged in his hotel was not raped but a willing partner, then the entire episode was irrelevant to Strauss-Kahn’s qualifications.
In America, on the other hand, one of the major parties orchestrated an impeachment trial of a president based on alleged legal offenses while in office, when in actuality he was being attacked by self-righteous legislators–all of whom themselves are hardly squeaky clean—for having intimate relations with a consenting White House intern; embarrassing, yes, but not impeachable.
All of which suggests that it is past time where the various churches are determining factors in public policy. They need to influence their parishioners and believers to do what they believe is right, but not that the states or the federal government should mandate moral and ethical behavior. The same sex marriage debate is the abortion debate of 2012.