In the wake of the reformation Europe was torn by religious wars for almost two centuries. France had the Huguenot wars, Britain the civil war between king and parliament, and in Germany, there was the 30 year war, which killed one third of the population.
My home town was the seat of a Nassau principality. By the end of the war, seven people remained alive.
Conflicts over resources are much easier to resolve than religious differences because one can just split the differences. That’s not an option when it comes to matters of conscience.
The solution was tolerance. The state afforded its subjects the private sphere where everyone was free to practice their religion according to the dictates of their conscience. Confining the coercive power of the state to matters of public interest, we managed to inhabit the same polity while practicing different religions.
There are a variety of ways to conceive of the public and the private sphere. The important thing is that the state intrudes as little as possible on matters of conscience.
No matter how strongly we feel about our religion, our faith can only constrain our own behavior. When we impose our religious believes on others, we are undermining the foundations of western civilization.
Religious freedom is a necessary precondition for peace and order. Without freedom of the conscience, we cannot enjoy the rule of law, liberal democracy, or any of the other benefits that a well ordered state confers on human beings.
In the absence of a secular justification of marriage discrimination, Proposition 8 contradicts the freedom of conscience. That damages all of us.
I understand that a lot of people feel strongly about their religious convictions. The supporters of Proposition 8 can also invoke the power of tradition. However, that does not give us license to impose our religious standards on non-believers.
When consciences clash in the political realm, violence is not far behind.
As the history of the 20th century demonstrates, civilization is fragile. The most civilized nation in the world can become the most barbarous almost instantaneously.
Protect the freedom of conscience and vote no on Proposition 8.