Sex and the Empire State
Losing marriage to sexual liberalism.


LOPEZ: How significant is it that this governor is Catholic?

GEORGE: Is he? There are many devout Protestants and even Jews and Muslims whose moral beliefs and practices are far more closely in line with Catholic teachings than Andrew Cuomo’s are. Andrew’s father’s views and policies gave scandal (as Catholics use that term) precisely because people took him to be a serious Catholic. No one is scandalized by Andrew’s beliefs or conduct because no one takes him to be a serious Catholic, that is, a Catholic who is serious enough about his faith to live by its tenets. Indeed, he quite publicly flouts Catholic principles, and doesn’t even seem to wrestle with it or be anguished about it, as his father at least liked to give the appearance of being. In word and deed, he has made it clear that he simply does not believe what Catholicism teaches about sexual morality and marriage. There is no reason to suppose that he regards the Catholic Church as having the authority to teach definitively on these issues or anything else. If there is a sense in which he is a Catholic, it does not involve believing what the Catholic Church teaches or even that the Catholic Church has any authority to teach. So I don’t see Cuomo’s Catholicism as a significant part of this story. He doesn’t even pretend to be serious enough about it to make anyone care or even take much notice.

LOPEZ: Why weren’t churches able to stop it?

GEORGE: As I’ve noted, New York is one of the most socially liberal states in the country. The governor is a powerful, quasi-dynastic figure who knows how to brandish both carrots and sticks. He’s a tough hombre who knows how to get what he wants. He had the support not only of rich and powerful Democrats, but of wealthy, socially liberal Republicans as well. And, of course, he had the enthusiastic support of the entertainment industry, the intellectuals, people who are famous for being famous, the media, and other cultural elites. All Cuomo needed was to peel off two or three Republicans in the state senate. In a way, it’s amazing that the task proved as difficult as it did. In any event, New York is scarcely representative of the rest of the country. It is quite unlike Minnesota (where the next big marriage battle will occur), for example, or Missouri, or New Mexico, or South Carolina.

LOPEZ: Religious liberty came up in New York as it has elsewhere as both a final argument for freedom, but it also became cover here for some who were, perhaps, looking for an excuse to vote for the bill. How important is the religious-liberty component in the marriage debate? In these legislative contexts can the religious-liberty debate become a sideshow and pawn? What more can we do for marriage and religious liberty, which are two separate issues, however interrelated here?

GEORGE: Religious-liberty “protections” simply functioned to provide cover for Republican politicians such as Buffalo-area state senator Mark Grisanti who, having been elected on pro-marriage platforms (and in Grisanti’s case having personally solicited and received pro-marriage campaign contributions in 2008), decided for whatever reasons to flip-flop and cave to Governor Cuomo and his supporters on redefining marriage. In the next election cycle, they will claim, ludicrously, to have protected the rights of Catholics, evangelicals, Orthodox Jews, and other pro-marriage believers. The truth is that the so-called protections are hardly adequate to protect the rights of institutions and individuals who reject the sexual-liberationist orthodoxy. They are vague in certain key respects, and will almost surely be interpreted narrowly by the courts as providing only minimal protections. If some of the protections actually survive the judicial process as meaningful constraints on what can be imposed by the state on believers and their institutions in the cause of “marriage equality,” these protections will be the targets of legislative repeal over the next few years. If you ask, “What can be done going forward around the country to protect religious liberty?” the answer is this: Win the fight to preserve the legal definition of marriage as the conjugal union of husband and wife. Period.