Wednesday, 4 February 2004
Well, not intentionally. In response to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's ruling today that barring gay couples from marriage was unconstitutional (according to the Massachusetts state constitution), President Bush said this:
Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. If activist judges insist on re-defining marriage by court order, the only alternative will be the constitutional process. We must do what is legally necessary to defend the sanctity of marriage.Juxtapose this statement with one from the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, part of the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.
The president says that marriage is a sacred institution, and in that I agree with him. Other sacred institutions include the church, the mosque, the synagogue, and the temple; also the pastor, the priest, the imam, the rabbi, religious holidays, apostolic succession, ecumenical councils, and canon law; not to mention baptism, the eucharist, confirmation, holy orders, penance, and extreme unction; or the Hajj, the confession, prayer, the fast of Ramadan, and almsgiving. All of these are institutions to many faithful in America, and all are seen as having been established or commanded ("instituted") by God. Many of these religious institutions also have legal ramifications. For example, employers cannot force their employees to work on religious holidays (with exceptions for vital services, such as police officers). The government cannot define which holidays are acceptable (e.g., Christmas or Easter) and which are illegitimate (e.g., Yom Kippur or Eid ul-Fitr). The U.S. military accepts as chaplains clergy who have been designated by religious organizations. It does not attempt to further define the qualifications of chaplains (e.g., chaplains must be male). Marriage has obvious secular components, such as rate of taxation, possession of common property, custody of children, insurance benefits, hospital visitation rights, and inheritance rights, and the state has cause to regulate these aspects of marriage, as long as the regulations apply to all married couples. However, if a religious organization decrees that a couple is married, even if they happen to be gay, what right does the state have to step in and dictate to that religious tradition what is and isn't allowed? (A similar argument can be made concerning couples who do not belong to any religious tradition, but I think the point is made more clearly by focusing on couples whose unions are blessed by a religious institution.)
What aspect of marriage is sacred? It's not insurance benefits or property that make marriage holy, nor is it even the bearing of children, since many married couples never have children. What makes marriage sacred is the blessing of God as recognized by the couple and their religious tradition. When the president and others propose legislation or constitutional amendments to "defend the sanctity of marriage," what they are really doing is destroying the sanctity of marriage by secularizing it completely. Only the church (or synagogue, mosque, or temple) has the right to declare that a union has divine sanction; the state does not. By declaring the sacredness and sanctity of marriage, the president is making the case for leaving the decision for which couples to bless in the hands of religious organizations. Some will condone marriages between gay couples, and others will not, and that is how it should be. The state has no business second-guessing the decisions of the church in regard to the fitness of two adults to marry. The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court is right, and their ruling is equally applicable to federal law:
Because the proposed law by its express terms forbids same-sex couples entry into civil marriage, it continues to relegate same-sex couples to a different status. . . . The history of our nation has demonstrated that separate is seldom, if ever, equal.
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