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Religion or politics?

Observer Viewpoint | Thursday, April 22, 2004

Where in the past alliances have been created, kingdoms forged and families made through matrimony, the gay marriage debate has set son against father and brother against brother.

However, despite the attention the issue has generated, there is sufficient evidence to believe that the debate may not be so newsworthy in the future.

Polls on gay marriage, taken by the Pew Research Center and printed by MSNBC in October, show that younger Americans may be discarding their religious roots. It found “those with a high level of religious commitment oppose gay marriage by 80 percent” and in addition that “younger adults were far more likely to say they favor gay marriage.”

If this secularization of the West continues, gay marriage may become a reality in America.

Additionally, because the acceptance of gay marriage has been shown to coincide with secularization, and in light of the diminishing religious tendencies among American youth, although the political poles may be getting further apart when it comes to the older generations, the gap between left and right in America will decrease.

The gay marriage debate is reliant on the political polarization that the United States embodies. This polarization is especially highlighted by European coverage of America’s gay marriage debate. America is portrayed in European media as a divided country, ensued in a battle between democratic and republican parties, with gay marriage as the ultimate dividing line.

Criticism becomes apparent in Britain because, where the Jacobean system is present and the body politic is secular, such debate doesn’t generate the same amount of cultural interest. Within Anglo coverage is an irony; despite the news hole that they devote to the subject of gay marriage, there is a pervading sense of political indifference towards the issue and bafflement to the American uproar.

When America covers its own gay marriage debate, the tension is not as blatant, but still very much present. The politicization of gay marriage is apparent but portrayed naturalistically for the most part. It is glossed over and taken for granted.

There have been a number of factors that have kept the debate alive in America.

There is, first of all, a journalistic assumption in the States is that there are two sides to every issue; issues are forced into categories of black and white. Americans have been particularly bothered by the gay marriage debate because they are tortured by a simultaneous desire to support equality for all peoples yet maintain a concept of universal morality.

Americans are particularly predisposed to this yes or no mentality; it is rooted in the framework of the United States. The belief in the notion of universal truth is religious in itself and breathed into existence in the first lines of the States’ constitution: “We hold these truths to be self-evident.”

Ultimately, coverage of the gay marriage debate exposes an ambiguous space that makes Americans uncomfortable. Anglos are not tortured by this same ambiguity because the Jacobean system personalizes morality, making it much more flexible.

And the result is the narrowing of the gap between liberals and conservatives in the United States. For months, people have argued that America is becoming increasingly divided as a nation, that the left is moving ever more left and the right more right.

However, such findings are not in contradiction with what the gay marriage debate reveals. October Pew Research Center polls published by NBC on gay marriage also found that, “opposition to gay marriage has grown since mid-summer, with 32 percent favoring it and 59 percent saying they opposed gay marriage.” However, the increase in opposition cannot be attributed to the younger generations of Americans who were “far more likely to say they favor gay marriage.”

Because the debate is a relatively new one, the growth in opposition to gay marriage can be attributed to older generations simply making up their mind on an issue they had not previously encountered. As older Americans are shown to be more devout in their beliefs, it is not surprising the gay marriage debate would cause an increase in polarization of the American body politic among older Americans.

As the less religious American youth rises and older generations die out, the political gap will narrow. The diminishing of religion would give rise to a more European mentality complete with a personalized morality. The “good” for Americans will cease to be the good for their brothers. Universal truth in America may cease to exist.

In the end, there is sufficient evidence to believe the gay marriage debate may not be much of one in the future. American youth are becoming more and more likely to give gays the right to marry. If future Americans become significantly less religious, it seems gay marriage in the United States may be inevitable. If such is the case, then a less stringently divided body politic also seems inevitable.

Those concerned with the amount of overseas involvement by the United States may be more likely to support a decline in religion to embrace a more relativistic morality in which other countries’ beliefs become a topic strictly of their own concern. However, moral relativism is a danger to future prosperity for the United States as well as the rest of the world.

For opponents of gay marriage and the religious, it seems the way to ensure that gay marriages don’t become an American reality would be to increase religiosity and spread the faith. This tactic may be more effective than simply pursuing a political agenda.

Either way, the gay marriage debate reveals new dimensions to what may happen in the future of America. Awareness of the implications of the debate will help prevent our own victimization and ensure that we are not only active consumers, but producers of the news.

Dolores Diaz is a junior English major and journalism and theology minor. She enjoys thinking. Contact her at ddiaz@nd.edu.

The views expressed in this column are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.