Celestial Lands The Religious Crossroads of Politics, Power, and Theology

Grudgingly for State Recognition of Marriage Equality

I grudgingly support the equality of state recognition of all people to get married, regardless of their sexual orientation. Why grudgingly? Not because I do not believe in the rights of each and every person to have equal protection before the law… I certainly do. Not because I do not think that same-sex partnerships are just as much “marriages” as heterosexual partnerships, because they certainly are.

No, I want the government out of marriage entirely. My support for the equality of state recognition of marriage is grudging because, to me, it is not the optimal solution. The optimal solution is that if you want to be married, you find a church or an officiant willing to marry you… if you want the civil benefits of domestic partnership, you should have to go to a court and get a civil union… heterosexual, homosexual, bi-sexual, non-sexual. If you want the civil benefits, you get a civil union.

I sometimes feel a little out of step about this, as I attend discussions with colleagues and others about the equality of marriage. When I hear discussions about having the state define who can be married, I cringe inside just a little bit… because from my perspective that is the current problem. Currently, the state is telling me that I cannot perform “marriages” for some of those whom my faith tells me I should perform marriages. In short, the current situation is violating my religious freedom. Moving where the marker is won’t change that.

I have to catch myself, when I perform a same-sex union, because in my heart of hearts I think of them as marriages. My faith tells me that, from a purely religious perspective, that is indeed what they should be. What prevents me from living my faith to its fullest in this respect is that the State is dangerously intertwined in what, for me, should be a religious ceremony.

I believe that if your church does not want to perform weddings for those who are same-sex, fine. Such a church should not have to. I and my more liberal colleagues would be more than happy to take care of that as an aspect of our faith. I know I ask mixed computer couples (you know, a PC person and a MAC person) to do some thinking about the challenges that might pose in their relationship (though I still perform services for them, Sandy and I are a mixed-comp couple). If your church does not want to marry left and right handed people, fine. If your church does not want to perform weddings for couples who are unable to bear children, fine. If your church does not believe in performing weddings for whoever…fine. That’s your right. But the State should have absolutely nothing to do with providing state sanction for your religious beliefs.

Now, I am not at all grudging about opposing efforts to write violations of my religious freedom into state constitutions.  Such anti-same sex marriage amendments are increasing the restrictions upon my ability to practice my faith, and there is nothing grudging for me about opposing such efforts.  It is in efforts to solve the problem by just moving the marker where I find my enthusiasm wane. 

So, I attend the meetings, I support the efforts, I sign the petitions to have the State recognize the right of same-sex couples to be married… but I do so grudgingly. If it’s the best we can do, it’s the best we can do… sigh.

Yours in Faith,

David

9 Thoughts on “Grudgingly for State Recognition of Marriage Equality

  1. I agree the solution here is getting the Gov out of marriage licensing completely. The notion of the government doing this is really a post-Civil War idea in the US. Before that it was simply the Churches and/or common law.

    This means all the benefits contingent on marriage need to be realigned along individuals, and its as individuals alone most of use will live the majority of our lives; whether the result of divorce or out living a partner.

    That’s a reality few UUs prepared to discuss.

    Religious Conservatives know something is wrong. But their only solution is a return to a past.

    That won’t work. With 40% of kids born to single moms last year; with many of us facing lives alone, we’re going to need new definitions of family.

    Proclaiming Marriage Equality won’t offer a solution. We’ll fail if our ethics stops with that, and right know I see darn few UUs going beyond that. It’s ridiculous because our Clergy have first hand experience counseling couples (and to my knowledge only couples but that’s hardly perfect knowledge)… We’re not relevant to the culture if we can’t get passed this sloganeering as ethical moral thinking.

  2. How about getting religion out of the civil marriage business?

    Religions would still be free to practice their religion through religious marriage ceremonies that would be optional at the wedding couple’s discretion.

    The legal contract of civil marriage would be accomplished by a secular agent of the state (who would not be clergy). And the legal ceremony would be the one that is legally binding on the couple (religious ceremonies would only be theologically binding on the couple).

    This would give churches the freedom to do religious marriage as they see fit and enforce a church-state separation ideal.

  3. Patrick McLaughlin on Friday April 10, 2009 at 1:28 +0000 said:

    Bill, can you expand on “…This means all the benefits contingent on marriage need to be realigned along individuals…”?

    I agree with David; the optimal choice is to separate (as some nations do) civil and religious marriage. Get your license and get your civil marriage (or union; pick one for everyone to use–there are good arguments for both, and I come down on the side of using the term marriage). Then get a religious marriage if you want one. Or, I suppose, vice versa–though that may be problematic, I’m not objecting to it.

    But most of the rights, privileges, and obligations attached to marriage have no clear meaning for an individual who isn’t in a couple. There are some tax ramifications–but those can be altered without even touching the issue of marriage, if that’s a concern. The ones that matter most to most people are things like having the right to go into a hospital to be with a seriously sick or injured partner. Outside of a couple relationship… how is that realigned to individuals? We, in this society, recognize that most people undertake serious pair bonds for extended, and presumptively permanent, durations, in which they commingle assets, and entangle lives, have, or adopt, or bring into the relationship existing children who are then raised together.

    If/when we get to some sort of universal health care, one of the considerations (but only one) that’s been entangled with marriage will go away. But not others.

    I’m just not clear on what you’re saying, I think.

  4. I rather favor going the other way – that religion should stop pretending that it invented marriage.

    When religion acts like their blessing is necessary in order to render a marriage “valid” then that means two of my coworkers (a married couple – Mike and Millie) are not validly married – because they are atheists. Mike especially vehemently does not believe in God and he strongly believes that when people pray to the invisible man in the sky that doesn’t exist, it’s the stupidest thing he’s ever seen in his life. And he grew up Catholic.

    So make marriage valid for all people, even those who do not believe in any kind of God or Goddess or entire pantheons of Divine powers.

    To REQUIRE people to go to a church to be married is doing people like them a disservice.

    Not only that – but there IS a difference between marriage and holy matrimony. I’ll explain later – I must get dressed and go to work! I’ll try and explain this over the weekend.

  5. Thank you all for your great responses…

    Tracie, the point you raise is the reason why I said “The optimal solution is that if you want to be married, you find a church or an officiant willing to marry you…” An Athiest couple should be able to find a officiant, (someone who performs ceremonies) to perform the ceremony they wish to have. Nothing says that person needs to be part of or represent a religion.

    I fully support the right of people to enter into marriage that is separate from any religious institution. I simply do not believe that that should mean that it becomes the state’s responsibility to enter into a set of personal committments between two individuals.

    Steve — I think “Civil Marriage” as many people understand it is similiar to what I mean by civil union… I just think the line needs to be clearer. To me, marriage is a set of personally binding vows… civil union should be a legal contract. The current benifits we associate with marriage should rest upon the contract, not the personal vows. In essence, you and I agree, just from different angles, except that I think the use of the term “civil marriage” is problematic.

    Yours in Faith,

    David

  6. David — you may want to check out the projection by Nate Silver at fivethirtyeight.com:

    Will Iowans Uphold Gay Marriage?
    http://www.fivethirtyeight.com/2009/04/will-iowans-uphold-gay-marriage.html

    Here’s a summary of Nate’s extrapolation from current polling data:

    The model predicts that by 2012, almost half of the 50 states would vote against a marriage ban, including several states that had previously voted to ban it. In fact, voters in Oregon, Nevada and Alaska (which Sarah Palin aside, is far more libertarian than culturally conservative) might already have second thoughts about the marriage bans that they’d previously passed.

    By 2016, only a handful of states in the Deep South would vote to ban gay marriage, with Mississippi being the last one to come around in 2024.

    The supporters of anti-same sex marriage amendments and laws are generally older than the supporters of same sex marriage. The public policy shift will happen as those who oppose same sex marriage stop voting (which generally happens as they age and die).

  7. Bill, can you expand on “…This means all the benefits contingent on marriage need to be realigned along individuals…”?

    Sure, right now my Health Insurance is a family plan. It covers my wife, my kids, and me. I file a joint tax return with my wife. My wife will collect a widows benefit on my pension. Ultimately that should all dissapper, and benefits and entitlements are determined for individuals; not couples or families.

    My minister once told me Marriage Licensing first started to allocate Civil War widows benefits. Someone else told me Marriage Licensing was a response to enforce miscegenation laws. Both reasons that should no longer be valid in my opinion.

    One of the most compelling reasons for ssm is the costs of drawing up the legals contracts to give couples the same rights as found in Marriage (and Divorce which is the far larger benefit Male/Female coupes realize than SSM cpls who tend to over look that I think unless one has far greater assets than the other) far exceed the cost of a marriage license.

    One other curious thing here is UUs do not view marriage as a sacrement i.e. a ritual in which God is active. We view it as a symbolic commitment freely and publically expressed to the community.

    When we proclaim Marriage Equality it’s a far different thing than the Marriage tradionalists seek to defend. It’s why you can listen to each side and feel like people are talking past each other.

    So for me, who remembers the 60’s and hawking Emma Goldman tract’s and proclaiming marriage a kind of enslavement, I feel we succeeded beyond our expectations in winning that argument.

    We’re left with a withering institution save a handful of activists seeking to expand marriage to ssm’s except I doubt many will take up the over.

    The trend is against marriage. Something will replace it. I don’t know what it will be. As things stand now, UUs are completely outside the debate… unware, oblivious to it….

    Some of talked of UU workerism and so on… Enter a factory today (and more often or not that’s a call center or some other mega office) and you’ll find armies of single moms. That’s our reality.

  8. Ah ok.

    Well, my tendency is to look at the real meanings behind the words “marriage” and “matrimony” because I often feel like many people toss these words around very loosely and seldom get really clear on what exactly they’re talking about.

    Since both “marriage” and “matrimony” are secular words and always have been, I tend to fight off the anti-gay marriage contingent by indicating that by definition those words never had anything to do with a religious ceremony at all.

    The “holy” part, on the other hand, sort of does imply religious involvement.

    Words have tremendous power. How they are used makes a huge difference in so many ways. And that’s why I think marriage is a secular thing and religion is the one who is in the wrong by acting as if marriage is its property.

    Maybe that also comes from having grown up United Methodist. Protestants have only two Sacraments (vehicles of Divine grace): Baptism and Communion. Marriage is not one of them. So in a way, at least the Protestant religions acknowledge that marriage is not their exclusive province.

    Just a wee bit of food for thought.

  9. I’m with you on this. The funny thing is that this position never occurred to me on my own; I read a proposal someone else’s blog that was so darn sensible I slapped my forehead.

    It could start with just one state. The proposition is that all marriages in existence on a certain date be automatically converted to civil unions, and from that date forward the government would only be in charge of civil unions. Marriages would be entirely in the purview of churches, communities, and/or families, as the case may be. All the marriage laws on the books would become applicable to civil unions.

    It’s a lovely idea, and I’d like to see a serious attempt made.

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