Thursday, March 28, 2013
I do but I don’t
This week saw historic hearings at the Supreme Court regarding the legality of gay marriage. Much has been written and talked about this subject, but most of it misses context and is the usual who's winning - who's losing coverage. Let’s step back and look at the role of government in the social fabric of society and how marriage is part of it. Equality in relationships is for many of us a deeply personal matter about our families and isn’t simply a matter of justice and identity. Obtaining permission from the state – receiving a license to marry – is a validation of equality and acceptance, but doesn't seem right. Is there a better way?
Wikipedia states: “For most of Western history, marriage was a private contract between two families. Until the 16th-century, Christian churches accepted the validity of a marriage on the basis of a couple’s declarations. If two people claimed that they had exchanged marital vows—even without witnesses—the Catholic Church accepted that they were validly married.”
If marriage was still a private contract – then why would the government need to license and approve it? Marriage is a right, consistent with other individual rights - some of which are spelled out in the Constitution, some of which aren't. Allowing the state to exercise control over marriage makes the institution, not a right. As the Libertarian Party states: those born in the US receive a birth certificate, not a birth license.
Certain private contracts do have to be registered with government – like real estate transactions. Obtaining a marriage certificate seems reasonable. Limiting the role of the state to issuing certificates also takes the religious element out of the equation.
Some persons of faith interpret the Bible in a way that reinforces their conclusion that marriage is between a man and a woman only and not two people who love each other. In matters of faith reason does not win the day. (Fortunately for me my religious tradition has been at the forefront of Equality.) Taking marriage out of the Temple and out of the Churches would mitigate the largest basis for opposition with the issue.
Many European countries, and even our friends in Mexico – certify marriages as civil contracts. People are fully married in the eyes of the law going through some bureaucratic process. Priests, Rabbi’s and other religious leaders are not empowered with the legal authority to marry people. Those couples who wish to have their relationships recognized in their faith tradition do that separately.
As long as there is a discrepancy between gay and non-gay people in the law, it is my fervent prayer that the Supreme Court eliminates the gap. As a philosophical political matter, I do think that moving to a system where marriage is not licensed, but recorded and religious authorities are decommissioned is the right way to go. Personally I know that at the time that my prince comes I will want society’s validation and the pomp and circumstance that my Hollywood Anglo-Catholic Parish can offer up. Until then I'd settle for a date.