Secular Law versus Religious Law on Marriage Equality
I know, that’s a bit of an odd headline for an article on marriage equality on an LGBT news blog. Stop polarizing the debate? We’re not polarizing it, THEY are…
Wrong. Everyone is polarizing it. Trying to figure out who “started” it would be like the perpetual question about the chicken and the egg. People who don’t understand “love the sinner, hate the sin” as a concept of compassion can’t understand the apparent hypocrisy of the post-Francis-election Catholic Church. People who don’t grasp what “the state shall make no laws establishing a state religion” means can’t grasp why they shouldn’t be allowed to make laws in the U.S. based on their religious beliefs. Everyone seems to be ignoring the simplest of solutions regarding the debate: stop allowing clergy to certify legal marriages.
If we take the clergy out of the equation, the entire house of cards falls down. Now mind you, I am speaking as a non-denominational ordained minister who did officiate at the wedding of two lesbians on the first day gay marriage was legal in my state. To see this debate end, I am willing to give up my ability to sign a marriage license. That won’t mean that I will be unable to officiate at the ceremony granting a religious blessing to a union, it just means I won’t be signing anything other than the guest book.
I know that the wedding of Prince Albert II of Monaco to Charlene Wittstock in the summer of 2011 was somewhat eclipsed by the preceding royal wedding in England, but it bears on this discussion. Prince Albert and Charlene were married first on July 1, in a civil ceremony. She didn’t even wear white for that one. The following day, Prince Albert and the-now Princess Charlene were married in a sumptuous religious ceremony… but the one on July 1 was the one that counted, legally. The second was really just for show, and the blessing of the Church.
A goodly number of European nations do it that way. You go to a registry office or have a civil ceremony to have your marriage legally recognized by the state. Anything you want to do beyond that, be it a drunken block party or a high church mass, has nothing to do with the legalities. It has everything to do with your marriage being celebrated and shouted from the rooftops of your chosen community, but that minister/priest/druid or whatever CANNOT MAKE IT LEGAL.
Why? Because after centuries upon centuries of religious wars, the Europeans smartened up, and booted all the different religions out of the business of the secular states. Contracts, and “marriage” is a contract, are matters of law, and law is a matter for the secular state. Period. End of sentence. End of argument.
No, really, it is the end of the argument. When marriage is considered as a strictly legal contract conferring upon the parties to the contract a laundry list of legal rights and obligations (from health decisions to estate taxes to alimony), then the gender of the parties becomes moot. Are the parties of legal age to enter into a binding legal contract? Yes? Okay.
There are a few things that will uniquely affect a marriage contract. Because of the procreative potential, degrees of consanguinity come into play. Right, “English” please… unless you want to astronomically increase your chances of birth defects in your children, you shouldn’t marry your sister, your brother, your parent, your aunt, your uncle or your first cousin.1
Cross-generational incest is another. This comes into play because of the high probability of authority manipulation. Again, “English”… an individual in a position of authority within a family can convince, manipulate, a weaker family member into agreeing to a relationship they would otherwise avoid.2
Anyway, back to booting out the clergy. If the clergy can no longer legally wed anyone, then whether or not a particular faith supports or rejects marriage equality is moot to everyone not a member of that faith. Really. If the Catholic Church or the Pentecostal Church or Islam doesn’t want its priests/ministers/imams to bless same-sex unions, okay. No one is saying they have to. As long as the legal is separate from the religious, no problem. You and yours can be as bigoted as you want, within the context of your faith’s sacraments.3 If you won’t bless a marriage, I can guarantee that some other faith will… and I’m positive that He/She will listen, whoever asks for the blessing.
I believe that we need to shout THIS from the rooftops. Our constitution forbids the establishment of a state religion. The Treaty of Tripoli (1797) stated categorically that we are not a Christian nation.4 We must fight every effort to codify religious beliefs into our laws on the basis of those two documents. Whether it be marriage equality, abortion rights, women’s rights, health care or social justice, we must fight for the sanctity of our secular laws.
If we take religion out of the debates, the debates must then be conducted on rational, scientific grounds. The opposition to measures of social justice will then falter and fail… and we, as a nation, will win.