Saturday, June 27, 2015

Marriage is not defined by religion. The 1st Amendment says so.

I see that some Christians are very upset with the ruling by the Supreme Court regarding same sex marriage. Some are saying that the decision will lead to polygamy (Utahn Mormons rejoice). Some are saying that the government has no right to define marriage (I'm one of them, but not for the same reasons). Some are saying that they will set themselves on fire in response to the ruling. Some have offered a box of matches and gas.

Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion and the final paragraph provides the nugget of truth everyone was waiting for:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its
fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.
Equal dignity under the law. That sounds like the 14th Amendment. The paragraph resonates with most, if not all of us. All of us would like union with some other person. I found it myself with my wife from Vietnam, Alice. There was a time in our country when social norms and perhaps some laws would have proscribed our marriage. But we live in a more enlightened age.

This ruling makes same sex marriage legal in all 50 states and provides a measure of security for everyone. For as soon as you prohibit a basic right for someone, it's only a matter of time before someone else finds a reason to limit access to that right for another group or set of people. In this particular case, Christians felt that they were being demonized for trying to corner the definition of marriage to suit their own purpose - to further their ambitions for their religion. A sort of Christian supremacy.

There is another reason that same sex couples should be able to get married. Sure, equal protection under the law is important, but the big one, at least in my mind, is that marriage cannot be defined by religion and recognized by government, without violating the 1st Amendment. What does the 1st Amendment to the Constitution say?
"Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances." (emphasis mine)
If I read that correctly, Congress lacks the authority to define marriage based on any religion. That means the end of the Defense of Marriage Act. Maybe some could see that if Congress is prohibited, that the states have the right to prohibit same sex marriage reserved to them. Or that the states may define marriage as it suits them. Granted, equal protection under the 14th Amendment is the stronger argument, just about every state constitution prohibits establishment of religion. We usually see the following language in their various constitions:

"The State shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof"

Usually, this provision gets top billing, first and foremost just so that we can get it out of the way. This my point. No state in their right mind would allow the government to define marriage. If they did, it's only a matter of time before some other religion (besides good 'ol Christianity) gets a foothold in government to do things *their* way. The Founding Fathers established a secular government and for good reason.

They know that honest people sincere in their beliefs can come to blows when it comes to religion. Getting religion out of the way in civic life makes everything else so much easier. If the government were allowed to use a definition of marriage promoted by one religion or another, there's going to be trouble.

I'm glad to see the ruling and an end to so much suffering. Letting gay people get married is not a problem to me and it doesn't bother me. For those who are bothered by it, there are bigger problems to be concerned about that require much greater attention, time and resources to solve. Let's just get along and move on.
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