Refreshing honesty about marriage

We’ve been hearing for years about how marriage has “always” been traditionally defined in major religious traditions as “between one man and one woman.” This is not at all true, of course, but for the purposes of this conversation, we’ll set that aside.

If the objection to marriage equality for all couples is that it changes a religious institution, then there is an obvious solution: Make it a religious institution only, and not the strange blend of civil law and religious sacrament it has evolved to be. That is what Doug at Below the Beltway argues, citing proposed legislation in the Maryland General Assembly to separate marriage and state. This is a sensible idea that some religious fundamentalists have supported here in our comments, as well. But, the bill just isn’t getting the support of the “conservatives” for whom it seems to have been designed. This piece just slays me:

[Delegate Christopher] Shank and other opponents say that same-sex unions defy religious convictions that marriage is between a man and a woman.

Yes, exactly. That is the purpose of the proposal: religious convictions need no longer be offended by bothersome civil law that has become confused with the religious sacrament of marriage. Within any given faith tradition, the practitioners of that faith can choose to perform the sacrament of marriage for same sex couples or not, and everyone will be treated equally in the realm of civil law, as the Constitution demands. That would respect everyone’s religious freedom, not just the religious freedom of those with one particular viewpoint. Or…wait. Could it be that that is the problem?

Shank sputters further:

They’re creating a situation for one special interest group that basically diminishes the value of marriage for everyone else.

None are as blind as those who will not see. How, exactly, does making the situation identical for everyone “create a situation for one special interest group?” This is a classic example of standing reality on its head. No, Shank and his pals want to maintain a situation that grants a special right to a group with a certain religious belief, and denies that right to those with different beliefs. On some level, it’s understandable that the value of that special right is “diminished” if they are no longer the only ones to have it. After all, that’s what makes it special.

But we don’t live under a theocratic regime in which people of one faith are granted special status (as much as certain groups might like to make it so). Allowing civil law and the religious sacrament of marriage to become entangled was a mistake that occurred because of an earlier prejudice against a category of person, and the entanglement has remained only out of custom. That’s not a good enough reason to fail to correct it now.

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