On Marrying Religion And Politics

Alabi Williams

Alabi Williams

ORDINARILY, there are enough homegrown troubles to deal with and talk about. But everyday, events happen around the world that have immediate and distant consequences on situations at home. At the risk of contravening an old rule of sticking with immediate and provincial issues, one is tempted to nose around and, perhaps, compare notes.

Besides, it is said that we now live in a global village, and sincerely that’s what the world has come to be. We are touched equally by the plight of fellow humans, no matter the distance. We share the grief of fleeing refugees that throng Europe and of those who couldn’t make it. Of particular weight is that of the family of Syrian toddler, Aylan Kurdi, drowned at sea and washed ashore by very vengeful waves. He laid face down, a grave sight that evoked pity and sadness in a complicit adult world.

There is another curious happening somewhere in the United States, Kentucky. There, a woman, Kim Davis, an elected clerk, was jailed for refusing to issue marriage certificates to gay couples in Rowan County, on grounds of her religious beliefs. In Kentucky, it is the responsibility of an elected clerk to issue marriage certificates, both to traditional marriage couples, that is, between a man and a woman; and off course, the strange one between two adult males or females. For sometime now, Davis had stoutly refused to issue certificates to either of the two groups. Her major concern is that she does not want to offend her Christian beliefs by issuing marriage certificates to same-sex couples, but in order not to be seen as discriminatory, she then put on hold issuance of marriage certificates from her office, to either straight or bent couples.

A federal High court promptly had her jailed, because her plea for religious liberty had constituted an obstacle to the liberty recently granted gay couples to be legally married. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling in June, legalised same-sex marriages across the entire country, but Davis has continued to insist that her religious faith should exempt her from licensing gay marriages.

Davis is not alone in her defiance, as at least, two contenders for the Republican ticket in the 2016 presidential election, Mike Huckabee and Ted Cruz have openly joined her at rallies to castigate the process that hauled her in jail. While Davis has gone on appeal, the debate is going to remain fierce on many fronts. Religious leaders, politicians and lawyers and other groups are pressing hard to have some inputs. And that seems to be the burden of democracy, ever seeking the breaking of new grounds to provide accommodation for all.

Politicians are looking for how to up their chances in the build up to presidential primaries and are putting all issues on the table in order to reach all segments. While the Democrats are skillfully poaching the demographics and preaching political correctness, some Republican GOPs think religious liberty is under attack, and is about being sacrificed on the altar of liberty for gay couples. They are of the view that those persecuting Davis believe that Christians should not serve in public office.

Davis deserves personal commendation for damning the consequences of her defiance and remaining faithful to her Christian faith. At a time when the impression outside the U.S. is not a good one on issues of morality and religion, it is great encouragement to hear that there are still people like Davis, willing to stand and hold up the torch of her faith, which is the same as that of the founding fathers of her country.

However, the argument against her is that she could have abstained as an individual from issuing marriage certificates to gay couples, while allowing her office to issue them. But could she have done that without sharing vicarious liability for the actions of her staff, when as the head, she takes overall responsibility for actions done or undone in her office? My take is that it remains the responsibility of the State to ensure that neither Davis nor those other people are cheated in the attempt to provide accommodation for all.

For the gay community, they got accommodation in the U.S. 14th amendment, which argued generally against discrimination. In the usual manner of constitutions, a certain ambiguity in it provides the window for further arguments on other forms of discrimination, including that of same-sex.

The U.S. social life is getting rather complex and there may be no end to what rightists would do to continue to expand frontiers for new lifestyles, beliefs and behaviours. And in case it seems ludicrous to outsiders, the recent U.S. Supreme Court position on same-sex actually buttresses what the country’s constitution stands for and the peculiarities that led to its formation. It is that heritage that foregrounds the granting of equal liberties to all.

Hear what the 14th Amendment says in its opening section:
All persons born or naturalised in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the state wherein they reside. No state shall make or enforce any law, which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any state deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

What was originally crafted to combat racial prejudices and discrimination is the same instrument that was used to legalise same sex. Funny?

Perhaps, one good lesson to take away is that of strict adherence to the provisions of the Constitution. That if the constitution pronounces a position some 147 years ago or more, new arguments could be built on it to justify expanded liberties. It merely tasks legal knowledge and the amount of lobbying and pressure that groups are able to muster. Countries that are looking up to the U.S. for fresh ideas on democracy may appear confused at this juncture, but it has to be about a country’s historical and traditional preferences. For instance, Nigeria, like some other African countries, have legislations that proscribe same-sex practice. Such legislations are historically and traditionally circumscribed. Same-sex marriage for now is inconceivable.

But for larger issues of accommodation and inclusivity, this is where many new democracies and others have serious challenges. While the U.S. is managing its diversities systematically and constitutionally, others are having serious challenges.

The refugee crisis that the world is contending with today, is the aftermath of the gale of Arab Spring protests that rocked Tunisia, Libya, Syria and others. In Libya, the endless rule of Muammar Ghadafi had to be brought to a sad end. Tunisia is still struggling with isolated extremism. Syria is the fall guy. Bashar al-Assad’s proclivity for hegemonic rule has torn Syria into shreds, throwing out hundreds of thousands of refugees all over the world.

For Nigeria, there is still a long way to that era, when issues of religion would be effectively put where they belong, so that good governance and development would thrive. While the Constitution pronounces the State as secular, a lot of decisions of government are taken based on the religious sentiments of leaders. Boko Haram insurgency is the immediate harvest from the failure to constitutionally consign religion to its place. After 1999, it was with glee some state governors in the North rushed to pronounce the enthronement of sharia in their states, in blatant contravention of the Constitution. But thank God, we are all alive to see the consequences of actions without due constitutional procedures.

Hopefully, moderates of all religions would intervene to let the Nigerian Constitution remain the supreme secular document for all Nigerians. So that extreme thoughts such as, those of Boko Haram would be banished to the abyss where they belong. To build an inclusive and progressive country that we all desire, all hands must be on deck. It begins with the leadership, showing grace and utmost neutrality. While citizens must put Nigeria first and all other things, including tribe and religion, second.

As the U.S. is struggling to accommodate new and strange behaviours, including gay marriages, Nigerians must brace up to our own peculiar challenges. Democracy provides the best leeway, provided we all have the humility to understand that it is only the Constitution that has powers to rescue any part, including the Northeast and the Southsouth, from future debilitating invasions. The earlier we learnt that truth, the better.

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