tv Religion Ethics Newsweekly PBS December 16, 2012 10:00am-10:30am PST
♪ the issues and personal stories behind the gay marriage cases the supreme court has agreed to hear. ♪ it's the most wonderful time of the year ♪ and amid the holiday shopping frenzy, kim lawton reports on how christians are trying to reclaim christmas gift giving from self-indulgence and consumerism. >> what we've done is make it about us, and it's become kind of one of the biggest, gluttonous feasdaysn the christianalendar. ♪
>> welcome, i'm bob abernethy it's good to have you with us. as the country expressed outrage over the deadly shooting rampage at the connecticut elementary school--one of the worst mass shootings ever--faith leaders called for special prayers for the victims, their families, and the children who witnessed the tragedy. amid more debates on capitol hill over e so-cled fiscal cliff, religious groups continued pushing congress to reach a fair deal. several faith groups were also watching closely as the supreme court announced it would take up two important cases dealing with same - sex marriage. today, we
have a special report from tim o'brien on the issues and personal stories behind these cases. one is the defense of marriage act, doma, passed by congress in 1996. the other is the famous proposition 8, in caiforni which would hav fordden same-sex marriage in that state. >> four years ago, voters in california approved proposition 8, an amendment to the state's constitution banning same-sex marriage in the state, only to have it overturned two years later by a federal judge who said the amendment denied gays and lesbians the equal protection of the law guaranteed by the u.s. constitution. >> "today, we are more american because of this decision..." >> a huge decision that would require all states to recognize gay marriage should the u.s. supreme court agree. the second case involves the federal defense of marriage act-doma, for short. the law denies same-sex couples who
marry the same federal benefits routinely accorded heterosexual marriages, including many tax benefits like the right to file a joint return. doma is being challenged by edie windsor, whose relationship with thea spayer spanned more than 40 years. they had met in the early sixties and were at one another's side for decades. they registered in new york city as domestic partners as soon as they could in 1993. but they wanted much more. >> "we want to do the vows and we want to exchange rings." >> spayer had been stricken with multiple sclerosis, and her health was failing. but that did not keep her and edie from hopping a plane to toronto, canada, where in 2007 they were wed. >> "i thea spayer, choose you...until death do us part."
>> two years later thea passed away, leaving the bulk of her estate to edie, now 83, which resulted in an estate tax bill of $363,000. even though new york recognized their marriage, edie did not qualify for the marital deduction allowed heterosexual marriages because of the defense of marriage act. a federal appeals court in new york found that also violated the guarantee to equal protection, but went much further. after noting a long history of discrimination against gays and lesbians, the court concluded any law that makes distinctions based on sexual orientation must be subjected to "heightened scrutiny," and the government must present "exceedingly persuasive" proof that the distinctions further "an important government interest." should the u.s. supreme court agree, it would be much more difficult for congress or any
city or state to discriminate against gays and lesbians on anything, not just marriage. the justice department ordinarily defends laws passed by congress, even those it doesn't like. but after the new york court's decision, president obama said his justice department would no longer defend doma in court: >> "doma, the defense of marriage act, is unconstitutional, and so we've said we cannot defend the federal government poking its nose into what states are doing and putting the thumb on the scale against same-sex couples"" >> those who had fought for passage of the defense of marriage act were understandably dismayed. >> "this is about what our children are going to be taught in elementary school. it is about stepping in between a parent and their child and imposing a new morality, or absence thereof, upon our
children." >> republican leaders in the house said they would defend the law themselves: >> "i raised my hand to uphold and defend the constitution of the united states and the laws of our country, and if the justice department was not going to defend this act passed by congress, ll, then we will." >> whether the house has the legal right to defend the law in the supreme court is unclear. a similar question arises with prop 8 in california, where the state has also decided not to defend that law, giving the justices an easy out for a narrow decision or to sidestep the issue altogether if they choose. historically, the court moves very slowly on social issues-following the trends, rarely leading them. the court took the lead in 1954, desegregating the nation's schools, igniting the civil rights movement. resistance s massive, however. it wasn't until 1967 that the court got around to addressing interracial marriage in the case of richard and mildred loving, who were convicted of violating virginia's law against
interracial marriage, a felony punishable by prison. >> "they sentenced us to one year in the state penitentiary. then they suspended for 25 years and said that we had to leave the state." >> the supreme court ruled 9-0 to throw out their convictions, chief justice earl warren writing, "the freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness." virginia's law "had no legitimate overriding purpose independent of invidious racial discrimination." the decision went against public opinion. interracial marriage was illegal in 16 states at the time, and a gallup poll showed 73 percent of those surveyed disapproved of it. race relations have come a long way since 1967, and proponents of same-sex marriage see similar progress for gays and lesbians. >> i think this is an area in
which we've seen tremendous movement over the last 15 or 20 years, and people are on a journey. i mean, as a lesbian i had to go through my own journey when the community first started talking about marriage, and i was, like, are you kidding? marriage? it's not for us. that's never been for us. and yet, as i thought about it i realized i do want to get married. once i let myself believe it was ssible, i want to marry the woman i love. >> the court will not be writing on a blank slate. twenty years ago, the justices threw out a constitutional amendment in colorado that would have prevented cities from protecting gays from discrimination, and in 2003, the court rejected a texas law that made gay sex a crime. justice anthony kennedy, whose vote could be critical on the same-sex marriage question, wrote both decisions and in striking down the texas law said this aut gays and the gay lifestyle.
>> "the petitioners are entitled to respect for their private lives. the state cannot demean their existence or control their destiny by making their private sexual conduct a crime. their right to liberty under the due process clause gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of the government. it is the promise of the constitution that there is a realm of personal liberty which the government may not enter." >> justice kennedy insisted the court's opinion did not directly apply to same-sex marriage, but dissenting justice antonin sclisaw differently. >> "at the end of its opinion, the court says that the present case 'does not involve whether the government must give formal recognition to any relationship that homosexual persons may seek to enter.' do not believe it. today's opinion dismantles the structure of constitutional law that has permitted a distinction to be made between heterosexual
and homosexual unions." >> a federal aeals court in boston agreed with scalia's interpretation and last may became the first federal appeals court to throw out doma, citing kennedy's decision in the texas case as authority. the rules governing marriage, like the rules governing divorce, have historically been left to the states, and they differ from state to state, like how old do you have to be to get married, and what do you do to get out of a marriage? the issue of same-sex marriage is widely expected to divide the court along liberal- conservative lines, but not necessarily. lee swislow of gay and lesbian advocates and defenders says there is a "state's rights" component in the case that could win over some conservative justices. >> when a state says you're married, does the federal government, as it has always done in the past, agree with that state definition? this is the first time that the federal government has ever reached in and said, "we don't care what you say, state. we're going to have our own definition of marriage." and we don't think there's any legitimate reason for the federal government to
take this unprecedented action. >> throwing out doma would not require all states to recognize gay marriage, but striking prop 8 possibly could. a number of mainstream religious groups do not support gay marriage. >> authentic, biblical, historic, orthodox christianity has always affirmed marriage being one man and one woman. >> and the court in new york addressed the religious concerns, distinguishing civil marriage from holy matrimony. judge dennis jacob wrote "the law is not concerned with holy matrimony. a state may enforce and dissolve a couple's marriage, but it cannot sanctify or bless it. for that, the pair must go next door." that the country has become more tolerant of homosexuality would seem to be unmistakable, and it may also be irreversible. for religion & ethics newsweekly, i'm tim o'brien in washington.
for more on religious groups and same-sex marriage, i am joined by kim lawton, managing editor of this program. kim, this is a tremendously powerful and divisive issue for religious groups isn't it? >> it is and these cases are going to be really,eally important for these religious groups. they're going to be very involved on both sides of the issue. some of the strongest opposition to gay marriage at the legislative level, at the court level, has come from religious groups, especially evangelical groups, roman catholics. the roman catholic bishops have been speaking out in favor of traditional marriage. so i expect there's going to be a robust amount of activity not only in terms of these religious groups writing friend of the court briefs and telling the high court what they think about the issue, but also at the grass roots. i've already been getting emails about prayer campaigns that are being organized. for example the bishops after christmas are doing a prayer
campaign to support what they call traditional marriage, life and liberty. >> and how do they divide up? catholics and evangelicals are one, but it's not all one or the other is it? >> exactly. there are growing movements within the religious community in support of gay marriage. there are religious groups who look at this as a matter of equality and justice. jewish groups have been, reform and conservative jews, have been very supportive of gay marriage, orthodox, not, in the jewish community. in the christian community a little more complicated. certainly while the roman catholic church at the hierarchy is opposed, you have grass roots groups like there's a group called equally blessed that says you can be a faithful catholic and still support this on an equality issue. and then a lot of the mainline denominations really torn over the issue. united church of christ and unitarians support gay marriage, but a lot of the other ones still define marriage as between a man and a woman.
instance, not only within the members of the congregation but the bind the pastor can be in if the state says one thing and the bible says another. >> well exactly, this has been an issue in some cases where in states that have legalized gay marriage and the pastors are in denominations that don't recognize it and so congregants who are gay come to them and say we want to be married in a church but the pastor says well our denomination doesn't allow that. >> kim lawton, many thanks. in other news, in germany, jewish and muslim groups expressed relief after the government passed a law this week explicitly protecting the practice of circumcision. earlier this year, a local german court had ruled that circumcision amounted to bodily harm. that decision did not ban circumcision but many feared it could open the door to criminal charges against those who performed it. jews and muslims argued that would have infringed
on their religious freedom. on monday, united nations human rights day, protests were held in several countries in support of tibet. the number of tibetans who have set themselves on fire to protest chinese rule has grown dramatically. this week, a 17 year old girl died after committing self- immolation, one of eight people under the age of 18 to have done so. activists say the number of self - immolations over the past three years has risen to more than 90. close to 30 occurred last month alone. at the vatican ts week pop benedict the 16th officially joined the twitter sphere, with the launch of his new twitter account. the pope used his allotted 140 characters to send out a message that read, "dear friends, i am pleased to get in touch with you through twitter. thank you for your generous
response. i bless all of you from my heart." benedict also responded to questions submitted by some of his twitter followers, who now number, in just a short time, at least 1 million. in bethlehem, the catholic and orthodox patriarchs of the holy land came together to announce the beginning of celebrations for christmas, which included decorating a christmas tree. and here in the u.s., president obama welcomed jewish leaders and staff to the white house this week for the annual white house hanukkah party. on display was a menorah from a synagogue in new york that had been badly damaged by hurricane sandy. and eaier theeek, outside the white house, crowds gathered for the lighting of the national menorah. hanukkah began last saturday evening. finally, with only a few shopping days left until
christmas, stores and online venders are doing a brisk business. but does all the shopping frenzy overwhelm the spiritual side of christmas? kim lawton has our story about how more and more local churches are urging their members to avoid self-indulgence and consumerism in order to reclaim the true meaning of christmas gifts and giving. >> in lake junaluska, north carolina, bob and diane gayer and their sons jarek and clay are doing a little christmas shopping. not at the mall at their church! long's chapel united methodist church sponsored an alternative christmas market, where various booths offered gift ideas that supported local and international charities. diane says projects like this help her family set a different tone for christmas. >> it's a very tricky time for the family. >> expensive. >> it is expensive, and we live in a real me society so the children always think of themselves first.
and as a parent, you want them to think of others. >> the tradition of giving christmas presents is often tied to the magi, or wise men, who according to the bible story, brought precious gifts to the baby jesus. but many christians say that tradition has gotten out of hand. according to the national retail federation, americans will spend $563 billion dollars for christmas 2012. the average family is expected to shell out about $750. the federation also forecasts that this holiday season, consumers will be spending the highest amount ever on gifts for themselves. amid all the shopping frenzy, more and more church leaders are speaking out against self-indulgence and consumerism. >> it's kind of hijacked the whole idea that christmas is about jesus' birth and honoring jesus with the priities that jesus uld ve ithe world,
espeally amongst marginalized people. but what we've done is made it more about us, and it's become kind of one of the biggest, gluttonous feast days on the christian calendar. >> rev. mike slaughter is lead pastor of ginghamsburg church outside dayton, ohio, and author of the book, "christmas is not your birthday," in which he urges people to consider what jesus might like for his birthday. >> what we need to see in christmas-regardless of what religious background or no, no religious background-is the purpe of jesusas tserve the eds of the world. >> to that end, for the last eight years, slaughter has issued a christmas challenge to his congregation: >> we've simply said, "whatever you spend on yourself, bring an equal amount for a focus we have in our community or the world." >> through what they call the christmas miracle offering, the church has built 243 schools and 19 clean water facilities in darfur and a health clinic in
south sudan. he says children have been among the most enthusiastic supporters. >> that's one of the things that surprised me the most. i really thought we were going get pushback from kids, that kids would not understand this. and what happened was the kids began to worry that if they got presents, other children would die. i was shocked. >> the church also supports several projects to help the local community, which has been hard hit by the economic downturn. there are ged programs, jobs programs, and food pantries. marcia florkey directs the church's outreach ministry called "new path." >> we've been really blessed because we have a lot of folks here who are really concerned about their neighbors, who really want to do all they can do to love their neighbors. >> in recent years, several international humanitarian organizations have been sponsoring projects to help others at christmas time. for example, through operation christmas child, samaritan's
purse urges people to pack shoe boxes of gifts for needy children. since 1993, the group says it has delivered more than 100 million boxes around the world. now, more local churches are also calling for a new, more spiritual look at christmas gift-giving. >> come and experience the joy and peace of christ- the perfect gift at christmas. merry christmas. >> the roman catholic archdiocese of washington has an initiative called, "find the perfect gift." the united methodist denomination has launched a million dollar campaign called "reclaim christmas." in lake junaluska, pastor chuck wilson wanted long's chal toe part oit. >> we know that we're not going to completely debunk american consumerism. but we do encourage great participation by just placing before our people dozens and dozens of opportunities for giving. >> many of those opportunities were represented at the
alternative market in the fellowship hall. families like the gayers could buy fair trade coffee and chocolate to benefit united methodist relief efforts. or, they could give a donation in someone's honor to build wells in africa. at one table, members of a church missions team sold purses made by a woman they met who runs an orphanage and scho in kenya. >> it's really neat when people come over here and buy them. and they can give them as gifts. so, you know this is going all the way to help some kid, maybe have lunch, or breakfast or get an education. >> eleven-year-old jarek and his ten-year-old brother clay both bought necklaces from a mission that works in africa. >> it's a win-win for everybody because i really like this necklace, but the money goes to more >> a good cause. >> yeah.
>> the gayer family also buys gifts for needy local children through a program called christmas angels. >>jarek delivers gifts with me on the day that we deliver for christmas angels. and he gets to see that, you know, sometimes life isn't always as nice as he has it at home. >> it's fun but it's like, life-touching because it's like you know that, ok, i have all this stuff and when you go to the person's house, it's just like (makes a surprised face), huh! it like, it just like touches your heart. >> this year, long's chapel also worked with the group stop hunger now to pack meals that will be shipped overseas. in one afternoon, the church put together more than 10,000 meals for haiti. clay says for him, that's the real meaning of christmas. >> christmas is not mostly about yourself. it's mostly all about giving. >> pastor wilson says behind all their efforts is a desire to honor what they believe is the ultimate christmas gift: jesus coming into the world.
we lievin ts imrtan kind of theological concept called the incarnation, that god came and got with us. god brought himself in the person of jesus and placed himself before us and came in the form of a child. >> as a christian to me one of the greatest miracles, you know, we talk about the miracle of the resurrection, but the greatest miracle to me is the whole idea of the incarnation, is that god would reveal god's self in a humble human being. >> and rev. slaughter believes at's indeed a birthday worth celebrating. i'm kim lawton reporting. ♪ that's our program for now. i'm bob abernethy. you can follow us on twitter and facebook and watch us anytime on the pbs app for iphones and ipads. there's
always much more on our web site as well, including a list of some organizaons at offer alternative gift ideas. you can comment on all of our stories and share them. audio and video podcasts are also available. join us at pbs.org. as we leave you, scenes from paris where celebrations were held to mark the 850th anniversary of the cathedral of notre dame .