9/17/2006

What is Marriage Anyway? The Religious Argument

Now, the final argument is the religious argument. You know, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.” Chris Sanders pointed out that if you get in a discussion with someone whose main point is that one-liner, then don’t bother discussing it further. The argument is lost. In many cases, those who want to make their arguments against gays based on their religious beliefs are lost. We won’t be able to reach them so it’s not beneficial to knock our heads against the wall trying to get through.

However, let’s look at this from a different angle. Not all faiths recognize ONLY heterosexual relationships. The United Church of Christ, Unitarian Universalists, (of course) the Metropolitan Community Church, Reformed Judaism, and some Episcopalians and liberal Baptists are just a few that do perform ceremonies for same-sex couples. Rabbi Berk mentioned that she had performed quite a few ceremonies for gay couples, but just as with a heterosexual couple, her signature on the contract has no power unless approved by the state. If a heterosexual couple came to her for a ceremony but didn’t have the marriage license, the ceremony would only have religious significance afforded by the couple’s faith, but it would hold no civil significance. They would be no more married in the eyes of the state than a gay couple.

So, the bottom line is that religious marriage and civil marriage are two different concepts. This amendment is about civil marriage, that which is recognized by the state, not by all religious groups because in essence, this amendment doesn’t recognize the practices and beliefs of ALL religious groups, just those that don’t recognize gay couples. In this sense, it contradicts the separation of church and state and it discriminates against the religious freedom of those who do and want to perform ceremonies for gay couples. As history has shown us with interracial marriage, churches can choose to perform or not perform a ceremony. If it goes against their teachings, the couple can find another church. My home church, a Southern Baptist church that was started by my ancestors, told one of my distant cousins that they wouldn’t perform a marriage ceremony for him because he was marrying a black woman. Did that stop the civil recognition of their marriage? No. He went to his to-be-wife’s church and had it done there. The same holds true here. A church can and should be able to decide they won’t marry gay couples, but it shouldn’t be the practice of the state to enshrine that discriminatory practice into law or to allow for only certain religions recognition of their practices.

There could be a lot more said about the religious argument, perhaps too much to mention now. I did find it interesting that Rabbi Berk, when confronted with the whole “Old Testament condemns homosexuality as an abomination” argument that she simply said that the Old Testament, like the Torah, is the historical foundation of our faith. It tells the story of how we as a religious people came to be, but with the coming of Jesus for Christians and the Rabbinical text for Jews, a new story was told. One where we weren’t tied to the old ways but were allowed to recognize God through new ways. For Christians, Jesus brought a new covenant epitomized in the Gospels where “love thy neighbor,” “do unto others as you’d have them do unto you,” and “judge not lest ye be judged” were the guiding principles of the new Christian faith. A discriminatory amendment is contrary to these teachings of Jesus.

Kind of on the heels of the religious argument is the phrase in the amendment “historical institution.” If we looked at marriage solely as an “historical institution,” wouldn’t that mean that married women whose husband dies has to marry their husband’s brother or that parents get a dowry for choosing the right husband for their daughter or that a man can have a concubine of 300 wives? It seems that describing marriage as an “historical institution” opens more doors to a “slippery slope” than anything gay couples could possibly bring to the table.

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