Degrees of Separation

July 2005


All the chatter about same-sex marriages usually proceeds from the assumption that what civil law says is legal is what churches are bound to uphold. This is just not true.

Many people are against same-sex marriage on religious grounds. There is nothing essentially wrong with this. Many churches also hold, for example, that when both people are not members of their church, they cannot be married in church: for example, a Christian man and a Muslim woman may not be married in many Christian, or Muslim, sects. The state does not order such a church to start marrying people who do not meet the church's prerequisites for marriage.

Say that there is a young woman from Indonesia who was raised a Muslim. She comes to this country to study at a university. In the course of her studies, she meets and falls in love with a young man in her class. They want to get married after they graduate. His church says that they cannot marry, because she is a Muslim. Her church says that they cannot marry, because he is a Christian. Neither wants to convert to the other's religion. However, if not married, when they graduate, the law will require her to go back to Indonesia. In this circumstance, these two people can go before a judge and be married. Neither of their churches will recognize this marriage as valid, but the US Immigration and Naturalization Service will. They can legally remain together, despite the fact that their churches prohibit them from marrying.

By marrying these two, the state has not forced their respective churches to change their rules and start marrying people they don't believe can or should be married. By religious rules, these two are living in sin, at least technically. That's their decision, to believe whatever they wish under the principle of freedom of religion and separation of church and state. Under the same principle, the state cannot refuse to marry them just because some churches disapprove of their marriage. That is how it should be.

Let's consider a comparable case. Assume that this young Indonesian woman met and fell in love with a fellow student, who happened also to be a Christian woman. In this case, neither the Muslim faith, nor the Christian faith would allow these two people to marry. Thee is nothing wrong with that, it's their choice to believe whatever they believe. It is wrong that a judge cannot legally unite these two loving people so that they may legally remain together. The state is currently obligated to refuse to marry them just because some churches disapprove of their marriage. This is wrong.

It was not very long ago, in this country, when many churches would not marry people of different races. Some may still not. If their belief is that miscegenation is contrary to the word of God, then that's their business, not the state's. I think they're wrong, but the state does not require them to disobey their beliefs because they don't happen to agree with me, even if most people happen to be on my side. The state should be allowed to join adults in civil unions without regard to their respective races, religions, ethnic backgrounds, or genders, despite the fact that some people believe it is wrong to do so, especially if those beliefs stem from religious convictions.

People with different ideas and convictions should be treated equally under the law. This is one of the core principles of our Constitution and our nation. Denying gay and lesbian couples the right to civil union, based upon religious conviction, elevates those convictions to the status of a State Religion, which is specifically forbidden in the Constitution. Allowing gay and lesbian people to form civil unions is quite simply a reflection and confirmation of our constitutionally guaranteed civil rights.

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