The forthcoming presidential election will be decided on several issues of profound importance to the nation's future. It is unfortunate that the debates about them will be confounded by a religious issue that does not belong on the political agenda. The issue is that of same-sex marriage.

A majority of our people identify themselves as Christian, and many of the faithful believe that they have received the word of God and have a mission to pass it on to those who do not believe with the same fervor as themselves. Their faith is admirable: Indeed, this might be a better world if we all obeyed our religious lessons with similar devotion.

But that, of course, is not the case. And the zealots who follow the leadership of the so-called religious right are, in their zeal, threatening us with an ugly religious war, fought on the battleground of the presidential election.

The zealots are determined to make a political issue of their conviction that same-sex marriages are so immoral as to threaten the well-being of the nation, if not civilization itself. The more fanatical among them even claim that same-sex marriages would encourage homosexuality to the degree that the nation's birthrate would be endangered. They also fear that children adopted by same-sex couples will choose to follow the lifestyle of their adoptive parents and thus perpetuate, even exacerbate, what they see as the "problem" of homosexuality.

Whatever the unlikelihood of their more drastic fears coming to pass, the CCR (the Conservative Christian Right) is entitled to its beliefs and -- utilizing our constitutional guarantees of freedom of speech, press and religion -- to pursue its determination to criminalize same-sex marriage even though, if successful, it faces the generally accepted impossibility of legislating moral behavior.

There are many of us Christians who recall our Sunday-school teachers and later our ministers dwelling upon the sympathy and respect -- indeed, the tolerance -- for others that, they taught, was basic to our Christian religion. As the prophet Isaiah summed up this need for tolerance: "Come, let us reason together."

We who believe this are compelled to ask: Where is the tolerance, where is the Christian spirit in the effort to criminalize the personal choices of our fellow citizens, personal choices that do not physically threaten others? Where is the Christian tolerance in the conceit of those Christian leaders who dare suggest that they alone can be trusted to properly interpret the lessons of their Bible, and who would impose that belief on this nation's highly diverse peoples by threatening to throw them in jail if they don't agree with the CCR's version of God's wishes?

Besides wishing to criminalize individual behavior, the more radical members of the Christian right would like their proposed federal law to dictate what individual churches could do in regard to recognizing or performing same-sex marriages. This is another abomination. Shouldn't that decision be made by the individual church or denomination? What possible excuse is there for government intervention in this decision except an unreasonable, unchristian intolerance for freedom of worship?

Where is the Christian tolerance in those right-wing Christian leaders who would impose their religious beliefs on the entire diverse population of the United States, even to the extent of a Constitutional amendment curtailing our rights of religious freedom?

As the CCR leadership presses this matter, which they depict as a moral issue, they threaten a religious war that will split our nation at a time in our lives when unity would be helpful in attacking far more critical problems on which the future of our nation depends -- our foreign policy, the economy, education, medical care and the environment, to name a few.

In the difficult days ahead, the tolerant among us -- Republican, Democratic or Independent, Christian, Muslim, Jewish or nonbeliever -- are going to have to try to preach another morality, and that is the morality of tolerance.


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© 2004 Walter Cronkite

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