Wednesday, 30 September 2009

Saqib Ali - my new hero

Saqib Ali, an American politician and a Muslim, supports gay marriage. Not personally - it goes against his faith. But he understands that his job as a legislator is to represent his constituents and to uphold democratic values.

In an editorial, Ali says "If I tried to enforce religion by law — as in a theocracy — I would be doing a disservice to my both constituents and to my religion." So, as a legislative policy, he supports extending marriage rights to same-sex couples. He is not subverting his values to those of the society he finds himself in. He is simply finding a path that allows him to stay true to his values, while upholding his responsibility to the people he represents. (There are many ways to oppose gay marriage without making it illegal; just as there are many ways to oppose abortions without making them illegal.)

Thanks to the Friendly Atheist for making me aware of this.


  1. One might, of course, think that the question of the state recognising (or not) same-sex marriages is not a religious one, and argue against it not because "My Religion Says So". He's milking this for all the warm PR he can get (which politicians have to do, of course). But if he were to oppose same-sex marriage, he would not necessarily be enforcing religion by law just because "by religion" he would also oppose it, just as laws against incestuous marriages or, say, theft, are not enforcing religion by law, though many would oppose those things by reason of their religion as well.

    Moreover, do his constituents want him to "support gay marriage"? I don't know how they elect the lower house in the US, so don't know how he would work out who his constituents are. But he's presumably now, in this matter, not representing the constituents who disagree with him (if we agree that he is representing those who support gay marriage by supporting it himself).


  2. What a great guy. Hooray for secularism!

  3. Saqib, glad you noticed. I'm not exactly in your constituency, but I hope my reaction helps encourage you to keep up the good work.

    Berenike, you are of course right. Opposing gay marriage is not necessarily tied to religion. However, it seems from his editorial that Saqib Ali feels that he has no good reason, aside from his religion, to oppose gay marriage.

    I'll even make the perhaps controversial assertion that democracy does not always mean just doing what "most people" want. (Observe that religious and non-religious arguments against same-sex marriage don't tend to depend on its popular support either.) Democracy depends on equality and empowerment. There was a time when most people - men and women - agreed that only men should vote. I put it to you that this was undemocratic. It took popular support for women's suffrage to make it a reality, but I think that it wasn't popular support that made it a worthy democratic cause.

    Similarly (but not identically!), the importance of gay marriage is - to me and to many others - not simply a matter of out-shouting our opponents. It is a matter of ending an inequality that we think conflicts with core democratic principles. (I'm not claiming this attitude for all proponents of same-sex marriage - I suspect that some do see it as simply a matter of popular opinion.) People are shut out of a public institution on a basis that is unjustified. (You may disagree with the assertion, but you must see that this argument does not suggest that the importance of marriage equality depends on public opinion.)

    At any rate, as the evidence accumulates from places like Spain, Canada, Britain, and other places that have already approved it, people will see that same-sex marriage is not the great threat to society and to religious freedom that some people predicted. And so popular opinion will continue to swing toward the position that I and Saqib Ali and others support. Just like women's suffrage.


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