We can respect same-sex marriage and religious freedom

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Ana Navarro: I've long been a Republican who supported same-sex marriage

She says now that the Supreme Court has spoken, it's up to us to respect same-sex marriage and religious freedom

Editor’s Note: Ana Navarro, a Republican strategist and commentator, was national Hispanic campaign chairwoman for John McCain in 2008, national Hispanic co-chair for Jon Huntsman’s 2012 campaign and is supporting Jeb Bush’s candidacy for 2016. Follow her on Twitter @ananavarro. The opinions expressed in this commentary are hers.

CNN  — 

“Hello. My name is Ana, and I support marriage equality.” For many years, I felt like being a pro-same sex marriage Republican would land me in a 12-step program.

Unlike Barack Obama, Hillary Clinton and so many other Americans, I didn’t evolve on the issue. I don’t remember a time in my life when I thought gay people were entitled to fewer rights than I was. I don’t think same-sex marriage is a threat to the institution. On the contrary, the more, the marrier (pun intended).

Ana Navarro

I never saw a conflict between conservative values of less government intrusion and personal freedom and supporting marriage equality. There is no freedom more personal than deciding who to commit your life to. Government shouldn’t mandate whom we choose to love.

As state after state legalized same-sex marriage, many of my gay friends legally wed.

My home state, Florida, was one of the last states in a series of states that legalized same-sex marriage and only after a protracted court battle. Many Floridians, including men and women I love dearly, traveled to other states so they could make their unions legal. I saw how much it meant to them to be able to say, “my husband” or “my wife.”

They felt their love was legitimized. Their relationships were equal. These are not people who want to chip away at the tradition of marriage. They want to participate in it and make it stronger. My gay friends were the reason I was a signatory on the two Republican amicus briefs that were filed with the Supreme Court in support of same-sex marriage.

From a personal point of view, my heart was filled with joy and celebration at last week’s Supreme Court decision making same-sex marriage legal in all 50 states. From a political point of view, I find myself hoping that this fight is over and we can move on.

This has been the most rapidly changing social issue of my lifetime. Six in 10 Americans now support legalizing same-sex marriage. For younger Americans, it is 73%, a supermajority. Republicans have also moved on the issue, albeit more slowly. In 2015, millennials think that being against same-sex marriage qualifies you to audition for the part of the caveman in the Geico commercials. And that is a problem for my party.

The same-sex marriage issue is now decided. The religious freedom battle is just beginning. There are decent people of good faith, people who are not bigots who have deeply held religious views against same-sex marriage. They legitimately feel their religious freedoms are at risk.

Some of these people are also my friends and relatives. My 74-year-old Nicaraguan Catholic father cannot get himself to accept same-sex marriage. God knows, I’ve tried.

I know my dad. It is not in his nature to discriminate against anybody – well, maybe with the exception of communists. My dad cannot get his arms around the idea of two men walking down the aisle. His views are shaped by his culture and guided by his religion. On social issues, he’ll side with The Vatican over me.

There are people on both sides of this issue who I respect and love. It is time for everyone to remember that tolerance is a two-way street. We must be respectful of people’s rights – that includes the right to marry who you choose, and also the right to practice the religion that you choose. These two rights can co-exist.

We are a pragmatic nation. We can and must find a solution to the conflict. There can’t be that many bakers, caterers and florists in America who don’t like to make money. The wedding industry is a multibillion dollar business. Most wedding vendors will be happy to charge same-sex couples for their services. The few that don’t are refusing the business based on religious objections.

I get the “it’s the principle of the thing” argument. On the other hand, who wants to pay for and eat a cake baked by someone who thinks you are committing a sin? Thank you, I’ll pass.

In a country as big, diverse and democratic as ours, we can come up with narrowly crafted exemptions for cottage industries and small vendors whose religious beliefs do not allow them to participate in a same-sex wedding.

Before we embark on countless legal challenges and the elderly evangelical baker making cakes out of her garage in Arkansas gets dragged into court, isn’t it worth trying to find a little sliver of common ground? I know I sound naive.

Our society is so politicized and polarized, reaching agreement can be hard to imagine. I urge both sides of this issue to take a deep breath and reflect on how we can live and respect each other’s freedoms, rights and beliefs.

In the meantime, I am going to enter a new 12-step program. “Hello. My name is Ana, and I support both marriage equality and religious freedoms …”

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