Opinion: Questions of morality

Good morning. I'm Matthew Fleischer, Web editor of The Times' Opinion section, filling in for Paul Thornton. It's July 11. The carefree glow of Independence Day gave way to a week of heavy moral considerations here in Opinion.

The recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of same-sex marriage had evangelical leaders such as Jim Daly and Franklin Graham lamenting the nation's impending moral decay. But Episcopal priest and Dartmouth College professor of religion Randall Balmer says fire and brimstone don't have to be the order of the day. "When I was growing up within the evangelical subculture in the 1960s," he writes, "divorce was roundly condemned by evangelicals." These days megachurches have become so understanding when it comes to divorce, they provide support groups for divorcees that essentially function as, in Balmer's words, "the evangelical equivalent of singles clubs."

What happened? In a word (or two words): Ronald Reagan. When leaders of the religious right decided to embrace Reagan as their political messiah, they had to swallow hard.

Not only was Reagan divorced, he was divorced and remarried, a clear violation of biblical teaching. As governor of California, moreover, Reagan signed the nation's first no-fault divorce law in 1969. Having cast their lot with Reagan in the 1980 election, evangelical denunciations of divorce all but disappeared.

If evangelicals can alter their attitudes toward divorce, they can do likewise with homosexuality and same-sex marriage. Indeed, views may soften as LGBT evangelicals come out of the closet and, like divorcees, make their communities confront their existence."

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Does being a good Catholic mean being a vegetarian? Pope Francis' latest encyclical, cautioning his flock "to be protectors of God's handiwork," certainly seemed to imply so to practicing Catholic and Farm Sanctuary director of policy Bruce Friedrich. "If what we are doing as a society to God's animals is not a sin," Friedrich writes, "what is?" L.A. Times

Easing the suffering of animals is something many Catholics could probably agree upon. But what's the best way to handle the suffering of terminally ill patients? California lawmakers, under heavy pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, abandoned legislation this week that would have permitted doctors to write fatal prescriptions for patients with six months or less to live. Writes The Times' editorial board: "It is unconscionable that California can't seem to pass a modest, sensible bill that would allow terminally ill people to end their lives peacefully and painlessly." L.A. Times

Two decades ago columnist Patt Morrison watched her father, stricken with Lou Gehrig's disease, sleep with two guns under his pillow in case his suffering became too much to bear. Needless to say, she watched with chagrin as the California Assembly shelved the right-to-die bill this week. L.A. Times

California may have missed an opportunity to aid the suffering of the terminally ill, but the nation at large took a huge step forward this week as the Obama administration put forward a plan to allow doctors to bill Medicare for end-of-life consultations. Editorial writer Jon Healey lauds the administration's decision, and talks about how his mother's graceful end-of-life care saved his family from undue pain. "She wanted no heroics performed on her behalf; she was ready to stop fighting." L.A. Times

Finally, the great ethical question that has been bothering us for days: Is it possible to be fully in favor of marriage equality but still hate Facebook's rainbow filter? L.A. Times

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