Tuesday, September 25, 2007

While We Are On the Subject: Gay Marriage

I get a bit tired of hearing the debate about gay marriage. What is that all about? I mean, honestly.

I wanted to expand on my previous post where I stated, “Oftentimes, we have to look towards those that will “lead” and pull us out of archaic thinking that so often pervades our common views…

A perfect example of this was as recent as 1987, when the Supreme Court of the United States in “Turner v. Safley” when the Court had to decide what role marriage plays in American Law.

“After careful consideration, the justices outlined four ‘important attributes’ of marriage: First, they said, marriage represents an opportunity to make a public statement of commitment and love to another person, and an opportunity to receive public support for that commitment. Second, the justices said, marriage has for many people and important spiritual or religious dimension. Third, marriage offers the prospect of physical ‘consummation,’ which of course most of us call something else. And fourth, the justices said, marriage in the United States is the unique and indispensible gateway, the ‘precondition,’ for a vast array of protections, responsibilities, and benefits – public and private, tangible and intangible, legal and economic-that have real importance for real people…and after weighing these attributes, the justices ruled – in a unanimous decision that marriage is SUCH AN IMPORTANT CHOICE THAT IT MAY NOT BE ARBITRARILY DENIED BY THE GOVERNMENT [emphasis added]. Accordingly, they ordered that the government stop refusing marriage licenses to the group of Americans who had brought the case,” (Wolfson, 8).

This case involved the ability for prisoners to marry and what benefits this process would have for said prisoners. Interestingly, the Court never mentioned as one of the attributes that marriage must be between “a man and a woman.”

Evan Wolfson, in his book WHY MARRIAGE MATTERS makes yet another great argument when dealing with the “religious” aspects of marriage. He states, “In terms of marriage…for government purposes, what matters are not the long-planned, beautiful, and memorable religious ceremonies that are a part of many couples’ weddings, but the LEGAL PAPERS [emphasis added] those couples sign before and afterword. As joyous, spiritual, and important as the religious rites of marriage are for many couples, in our country the right to marry is, first and foremost, a legal matter that may or may not be witnessed by a religious officiant [sic] or celebrated by a religious ceremony, or performed by a judge or clerk in a civil ceremony, as the couple chooses,” (Wolfson, 105).

In this argument, Wolfson makes sure that the reader understands the difference between RITES (as in religious) and RIGHTS (as in governmental). The First Amendment of our Constitution demand the separation of church and state, which is why, if a couple wants to get married in front of a judge or clerk – they may do so and they still maintain all of the rights and responsibilities as those that choose to have their ceremony in a church, synagogue, mosque, et.al. There is NO difference from a LEGAL standpoint, though an argument can be made that there is a huge difference in the eyes of their religious beliefs.

This point of view is even held in high esteem by many in the religious community…. “The Union of American Hebrew Congregations, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Unitarian Universalist Association, and other denominations have spoken in support of civil-marriage equality…Reverend Peter Gomes of Harvard University’s Memorial Church explained in a speech at the Massachusetts Statehouse, ‘Religious views in these constitutional matters-no matter how deeply felt-are irrelevant,” (Wolfson, 107).

The Reverend’s words are profound and extremely daring…but they focus the attention back on the constitutional question of marriage, while leaving the religious implications at bay, since they have no place in the civil-marriage argument.

Next, I wish to deal with the how pervasive the religious right has polluted the issue of civil-marriage. In 2004, U.S. Representative Jim McDermott (D-WA), placed into the Congressional Record* what a Federal Biblical Marriage Amendment might look like (as many fervent religious followers believe in having God’s Law as the law of the land). Here is what it said:

‘Marriage shall consist of a union between one man and one or more women. That is from Genesis 29:17-28.
Secondly, marriage shall not impede a man’s right to take concubines in addition to his wife or wives. That is II Samuel 5:13 and II Chronicles 11:21.
A marriage shall be considered valid only if the wife is a virgin. If the wife is not a virgin, she shall be executed. That is Deuteronomy 22:13.
Marriage of a believer and a nonbeliever shall be forbidden. That is Genesis 24:3.
Finally, it says that since there is no law that can change things, divorce is not possible, and finally if a married man dies, his brother has to marry his sister-in-law.’

*Codifying “Biblical Principles” of Marriage, Congressional Record, February 25, 2004.

I felt it was important to include this piece, only because it illustrates the way an argument can be framed. I do not believe that the MAJORITY of religious followers even slightly agree with these tenets. But, if there are those that wish to bring the Bible into the secular society in order to deny a group of people the right to be civilly married, then these passages from the Bible must also be examined as a reason to change the law. You can’t have it both ways. If you want to object to gay marriage on religious grounds, then you must also accept that these passages are important in the foundational marriage rites according to the Bible, and live by them as well.

To the question of “why change the definition of marriage?” It is not anyone’s intent to change the definition of marriage (except perhaps the US Congress). As I stated in my previous post, the definition of marriage is INCLUSIVE, and not exclusive to just a man and a woman. Again, I refer to Wolfson (190), who puts it so elegantly: “Ending the exclusion of gay people from marriage would not change the ‘definition’ of marriage, but it would remove a discriminatory barrier from the path of people who have made a personal commitment to each other and are now ready and willing to take on the responsibilities and legal commitment of marriage.”

And finally……There were many times in our country’s history where people were denied the right to marry. “Previous chapters in American history have seen race discrimination in marriage (ended only in 1967), laws making wives legally inferior to husbands (changed as late as the 1970’s and 1980’s), resistance to allowing people to end failed or abusive marriages through divorce (fought over in the 1940s and 1950s), and even a refusal to allow married and unmarried people to make their own decisions about whether to use contraception or raise children (decided in 1965),” (Wolfson, 190).

So, yes, marriage has changed. It is not as it was in the days of the Bible, and it is not the same as it was as late as 1987. It has evolved as we as a nation have evolved. There is no reason to believe that this issue is any different. I have presented my point of view in response to what my brother Jimmy states. I love him dearly – we just see things from quite different perspectives. Though I disagree with my brother’s position – I still love him. I doubt we will ever see eye to eye on this, which is sad….but I want my relationship with my partner to be as equal (in a civil-marriage sense) as any married couple. But as they say, “separate but equal” by its very definition is NOT equal.


Jimmy said...

I will not respond to your post here...it would be nearly as long. I love you, too.

You assume that the government is "ARBITRARILY" denying this right? There is nothing arbitrary in common law, in tradition, in definition.

And marriage IS NOT AND NEVER HAS BEEN INCLUSIVE--(and I apologize, John, if this makes you angry). Civil marriage EXCLUDES all sorts of people...minors, already married persons, the retarded, the insane, and others who cannot enter into contracts.

As I said before, take away civil marriage, PLEASE, before changing the definition to something THAT HAS NEVER BEEN PART OF THE UNDERSTANDING OF THE CONCEPT--instead establish civil unions for all and separate the concepts. In this case I will remain married (according to the definition and tradition) in the holy state of Matrimony in the eyes of my God and my religion and then may choose whether to partake in having the state recognize my union as a civil union.

Just because the state recognizes a religious and traditional state does NOT give it the authority to change its meaning. I do not want it if it means that it will dilute its meaning by allowing any and all 'new understandings' in the future.

When I get my blog up and running, my response to your analysis will be addressed further.

Jodi said...

Jim, divorce dillutes marraige's meaning, does it not? How can you allow this dillution in society and not feel betrayed by it, but the mention of the inclusion of a particular group of people somehow dillutes what you supposedly hold so dear? I just don't buy it.