Lately there have been an increasing number of stories about same-sex marriage in the news. Considering all the coverage about our tanking economy, our screwed foreign policy, dead and dying celebrities, and how perfectly good airplanes are crashing left and right, it wouldn’t be too surprising if a person missed it. But at a time when our country’s divorce rate is hovering around the 50% mark, the fight for gay marriage seems a bit like the ultimate love story. There is a segment of the population that believes so strongly in marriage that they are actually fighting for the right to join the ranks of married people. Given what I have seen of married people lately, I can’t say that I would be fighting for that, er, honor, but to each his own.
I never would have imagined that something like a gay couple who love each other so much that they want to get hitched would unleash such a socio-political brouhaha. And yet, that is exactly what the same-sex marriage debate has become. Legislatures are under pressure to formally declare that marriage is defined as only being between a man and a woman. Outside state offices and courthouses in places that allow gay marriage crowds have gathered, some trying to get their marriage licenses, others chanting that God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.
From my standpoint, I believe that the folks against same-sex marriage have every right to ban gay unions in their churches and dislike homosexuals as much as they want to. I don’t like their stance, but, from my understanding of The Bill of Rights, they have the right to think and feel the way they want to about the subject. If they feel there is a solid biblical reason for gays not to marry, fine.
Where I take issue with this, and maybe all my government classes were wrong, is that we in these United States believe in a quirky little thing called the separation of church and state. Oh, and the idea of majority rule while preserving minority rights.
Therefore, I find it difficult to understand why, if the sole stated reasoning against gay marriage is based on a religious interpretation of what a vocal group of Christian supporters believe and understand to be God’s will, our country hasn’t passed an amendment allowing gay marriage on a national level. When did “God says so” become the basis for legislative rulings in a secular nation? Hello, separation of church and state anybody? Anybody?
As I understand it, the national and state governments don’t give a crap about people’s religious beliefs when they get married. That consideration falls to individual denominations and the clerics who represent those denominations if they are asked to officiate a union. All the state (a.k.a. government) cares about is that you are who you say you are, that you are entering this partnership agreement of your own free will, that you are not currently in partnership with anyone else, that you are old enough to enter into a partnership, and that the swearing of this partnership is properly witnessed. You don’t have to be a good person, you don’t have to be caught up on your taxes, you don’t even have to be a citizen, and you certainly don’t have to profess any religious belief to be legally married in the eyes of the state.
Incidentally, if the state didn’t grant clerics the authority to conduct a legally binding contract recognized by said state, then a church marriage ceremony would be nothing more than just that, a religious ceremony. While the religious ceremony may have deep significance on a spiritual, cultural, or social level, without the backing of the state that sanctions the union it is not a legal marriage contract. It would have no more legal clout than a christening ceremony or the Eucharist.
And that is part of this debate that is a major sticking point for me, because it seems like the secular legal decision about who the state will allow to marry is being overwhelmed with religious considerations. I would dearly like to know if there is a non-religious reason to prohibit gay marriage because I have yet to hear one. Is there a constitutional reason to ban same-sex unions? Is this being kept secret somewhere with J. Edgar Hoover’s files? Maybe with Hoover’s lingerie? People want to know.
I find it scary to think that my constitutional rights and freedoms as a citizen of the United States of America are only secure so long as I don’t run afoul of how the Religious Right or any religious majority are interpreting their sacred texts that week. And, I think the Religious Right should find it scary too.
At the moment, the United States likes to consider itself, socially and culturally speaking, a predominantly Christian nation. But that could change. I wonder how this nation’s current religious majority would react to being a minority. If say, conservative Islamic beliefs became the majority, how would Christians react to laws passed about women needing to be veiled in public? What if the witches decided everyone had to have a smudge on their houses? My guess is the Christians would be angry that in a supposedly secular nation claiming to value religious liberty, their rights as citizens could be subjugated because they failed to conform to another group’s religious views.
Rules about religious liberty in this country weren’t set up solely to protect people as they practice their religion, but also to protect citizens from those practicing religion. This is why I think it is scary to create legal precedence for using religion and religious beliefs as a basis for determining who has what rights under the law. But then, it probably looks different if you are in the group that gets to do the subjugating.
But that is not my only concern in the gay-marriage debate. There’s also the problem with gay marriage measures failing when they are presented to the voters, sending the message, “Homosexuals don’t deserve to marry because the majority of voters say so. So there. No take backs and no whammies.”
You mean a disinterested group of voters don’t give a rat’s ass about the rights of a minority? Gee, couldn’t see that one coming. When has that ever happened in American history? I mean, other than the peculiar institution of slavery that flourished in the south, the people accused and executed for witchcraft in Salem, Massachusetts, the gross mistreatment of Native Americans all over the country for a few centuries, the fact that women didn’t have the same voting rights as their male counter parts until the 20th century, the Japanese internment camps of WWII, and the Jim Crow laws in the south that prevented blacks from being able to vote. Yeah, other than those few, isolated cases, when has a majority in America ever failed to do what is right by a minority?
Is denying someone a right under the law permissible if a majority of voters think it is okay? If that is true, then pretty much most of the mob actions throughout the history of the world would be justified with a “might-makes-right” argument. French aristocrats, European Jews, Christians in ancient Rome, sucks to be you, but we took a vote and you don’t get to live. Rest assured, we got a majority.
And there is also all this flap that gay-unions will ruin the sanctity of marriage. Really? Gay folks will do that? Because it seems that heterosexuals were doing a pretty good job of ruining marriage’s sanctity all on their own.
Irrespective of religious beliefs, for the sake of argument let’s say marriage is something sanctioned by God. And let’s assume that He created and sanctioned marriage for the support and mutual happiness of both parties because, as I read it, men and women were created equal before God. So, that begs the question, how have we done?
Under the heterosexual reign marriage has frequently been a tool of patriarchy rather than partnership, marriage has historically been used to cement political alliances (Queen Victoria so successfully pimped out her children that almost all the royal houses in Europe were related by their hemophiliac blood or marriage), and marriage was also used to transfer and procure wealth and titles.
Because I’m sure that’s why God created marriage, so Ferdinand and Isabella could unite Spain, oust the Moors, conduct the Spanish Inquisition, and rape the New World.
But what about the marital miseries of ordinary heterosexuals? Most people know of at least one marriage marred by domestic abuse. How sanctified is it to hit someone after vowing to love, honor, and cherish that person? One friend told me she endured her husband beating her on a regular basis for more than twenty years because she had been taught that divorce went against the Bible.
Then there’s infidelity, plenty of that in the straight world. Really, I think nothing says sanctity like screwing someone else (possibly several someones) after vowing before God, man, and the state to devote yourself to just one person. And, in addition to the massive betrayal of trust and all the deceit, there is also the fact that it can expose a partner to serious risk for contracting STDs.
But even without domestic assault and infidelity, there is still plenty of divorce because of apathy, antagonism, and incompatibility. Seems like you don’t have to look too far to find one of those couples who never should have gotten married and seem to stay together only because it is the most convenient way to make one another miserable. Not too surprising considering how often people marry for reasons other than love, mutual respect, and wanting to build a life together. One guy told me his girlfriend’s great idea for solving their relationship problems was to get married. Yup, “We don’t get along so what we really need to do is get hitched. That will solve everything.”
Oh, and then there are the people who kill their spouses. That may be for a variety of reasons like abuse, anger over cheating or betrayal, not wanting to give the other person a divorce, life insurance money, and pregnancy. Yeah it is kind of creepy that the leading cause of death for pregnant women is murder, frequently at the hands of the baby’s father—and some of these victims are married women (like Lacy Peterson), not just baby-mamas.
It is sad that some of the most crushing betrayals, callous abuses, and apathetic treatment of a person’s life may be perpetrated by the person who vowed to love, honor, and cherish them, for better or for worse, for richer or for poorer, in sickness and in health as long as they both shall live. How much less sanctified could marriage get? It begs the question, What could gay people possibly do to taint marriage that straight people haven’t already done?
I’m not claiming that there aren’t good marriages out there, the sort that live up to all the hype about love and respect and partnership and don’t leave people miserable, betrayed, battered, or dead. I’m simply illustrating that marriage is not a perfect, pristine institution that is going to get its first blemish if homosexuals get to marry.
Now, if I found some willing guy we could head off to Vegas and be married before midnight and that would be completely legal (regardless of our blood alcohol levels or how long we’d known each other or our religious beliefs) and, according to the religious arguments I’ve heard, blessed by God—even if it was officiated by Elvis. But I’d like to imagine that if things were different and that my right to marry was in the hands of the voting public and a twitchy legislature more concerned with re-election than doing the right thing, that my rights as a citizen would be more important than caving to the prevailing religious belief. And, I would hope that other citizens could acknowledge my rights without having to approve of my lifestyle, like me, or even know me. But I guess that’s the problem with being a daydream believer. Who knew the Constitution was the impossible dream?