Religion, Politics, and Privacy

Article excerpt

In a recent episode of the NBC drama series The West Wing, characters portrayed by Martin Sheen and Alan Alda are sitting in the White House kitchen eating ice cream together. "What ever happened to the separation of church and state?" Alda asks Sheen. "It's still there," Sheen responds. "It's the separation of church and politics that is the problem."

I couldn't agree more.

Consider the marriage rights of Terri and Michael Schiavo. Fifteen years ago Terri slipped into a persistent vegetative state after a heart attack cut off the oxygen to her brain. In what is probably the most difficult decision a spouse could ever have to make, Michael spent 15 years attempting to exercise his legal right to remove his wife from life support. It's what she asked him to do in this situation, he says.

The right to make medical decisions for a spouse is one of the many rights gay and lesbian couples have been fighting for in their long pursuit of marriage equality. It's among the many rights of marriage that conservative religious groups claim need to be protected-rights, they argue, that are inviolable yet fragile and easily damaged by the influence of society.

So why is it that these same conservative groups and lawmakers feel that in the case of Terri Schiavo they can redefine the very marriage rights they are protecting? They seem happy to "protect" the rights of only those people whose definition of those rights matches their own. It's religion meddling not just in politics but in our private lives.

It also brings to mind the case of John McCusker Jr., a gay businessman and community activist in San Diego who recently died of a heart attack while skiing. McCusker, 31, had made it clear that when he died he wanted a Catholic funeral on the campus of his alma mater, the University of San Diego. But John Brom, the Roman Catholic bishop in San Diego, denied McCusker's family the right to a funeral in any of the 98 Catholic churches or chapels in the diocese.

Bishop Brom labeled McCusker a "manifest sinner" because he owned two bars that catered to gay clientele. …