The Chick-fil-A of Conservation
The South Carolina Sierra Clubís primary goal is to protect the environment and support related conservation efforts in this state. Its membership might reasonably wonder how taking a stand on same-sex marriage will contribute to those goals.
The organizationís position was detailed in a letter to the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of South Carolina as it abandoned its long-time association with Camp St. Christopher on Seabrook Island. Thatís because the diocese, which owns it, opposes same-sex marriage.
S.C. Sierra Club Chairwoman Susan Corbett says the decision is in line with a position taken by the national organization earlier this year after President Barack Obama announced his support for gay marriage.
Does the statewide membership support that position and its application in opposition to the Diocese regarding the use of Camp St. Christopher? Ms. Corbett believes so, though acknowledges that no vote has been taken on the matter by the state Sierra Clubís 5,800 members.
The larger question is whether an environmental advocacy organization should take such a divisive stance on an issue that is extraneous to its mission. As a practical matter that can only make its environmental goals harder to achieve in a conservative state like South Carolina.
Prospective members might well ask themselves: Do you have to believe in same-sex marriage to join the Sierra Club?
No, but the organizationís leaders clearly would prefer that you did.
Ms. Corbett describes the Sierra Club as the ďmost progressiveĒ of conservation groups and points out that this isnít the first time it has taken a stand outside of the stateís mainstream. She notes, for example, that it continues to strongly oppose nuclear power, despite the widespread support it has in South Carolina.
But nuclear power is an issue related to the environment. You might not agree with the Sierra Club on that issue, but it does bring an informed perspective to the debate.
As a membership organization, the Sierra Club ought to be a big tent organization representing those who share a common vision for conservation and environmental protection.
For its leadership to draw a line on a controversial issue extraneous to the organizationís stated goals will have the effect of limiting its ability to influence public opinion and public policy on the issues most important to its membership.
If the stateís Sierra leaders want to follow the national lead and risk marginalizing the organization, they should at least be willing to first check with the folks who pay the dues.
Even if they agree on this particular issue, they might reasonably consider it a battle outside of the bailiwick of a conservation group.
Or perhaps even a matter of individual conscience.