A vote approaches about the Federal Marriage Amendment. This is important to me, not just because of my gay friends and how this affects their daily lives (because let’s face it, this will impact a gay person’s life more than a straight person’s.) I think we’re being horribly ahistorical about marriage (there’s that word again.) It’s also important because ultimately the argument is about values – the things that define us.
As a Christian I believe that our greatest commandment is to love Christ and be a representative, a carrier, of His love to the world. This amendment is not about love or embracing our brother. (Yes, the gay sitting next to you is your brother.) This amendment isn’t even about marriage. There are two types of marriage in our society – civic and religious. It so happens that the civic and religious faces of our marriages usually unite – because of mutual faith backgrounds of those marrying, but mostly because of convention. But throughout Western history, daresay much of history itself, marriage has not been merely a religious rite, but a social rite, as well.
The history of marriage is a history of social contracts, legal rights and civic law. Through the act of marriage property has been united, wealth consolidated, political futures secured. To see marriage in only its religious light is to be ignorant of the secular role of marriage – a role that shadowed, or stealthily followed, the church. In fact the church has worked very hard to support the needs of the state when it comes to marriage. (English history lite: What was Henry VIII’s beef? The church wouldn’t let him divorce on religious grounds. Being all hotheaded, Henry took this as a political offense – a foreign power encroaching on his sovereignty. Because of this political threat and to get what he wanted, a new church was established – the Anglican Church—and Henry was its head. He got that divorce – and many others besides. But he also got land – he confiscated Roman Catholic property and grasped their wealth for his own; it was a bold political move forged on the back of his marital dissatisfaction and religious disagreement.) Marriage can be a declaration of faith, yes, but it’s also backed by the needs of the state (I use the word ‘state’ to embody the government).
To emphasize what we’re talking about, let me repeat: We have a state power using marriage in its religious sense to further its own secular political agenda and to civically disenfranchise a segment of our population from legal rights the majority of our citizenship already enjoy – despite their marital status. It’s sleight of hand, this Federal Marriage Amendment. It’s a trick that satisfies our biases (which you have a perfect right to) and tries to write those biases into law (which is not so right.)
As a social convention marriage, and the definition thereof, also changes with the needs of society. Just as changing ideas about race and gender have contributed to severe rewritings in defining marriage (i.e., women are no longer legally defined as property and interracial marriages are no longer illegal, though some states still lag behind...) so will ideas about sexual orientation will, as well. This is part of that moment. As a social convention, marriage binds the properties and financial responsibilities of two consenting adults; why shouldn’t gay people have this civic right?
If our national values say liberty for all – and this includes the liberty of private property, private acts, association and speech – then such an amendment takes the private lives of our citizens and makes portions of it illegal. This isn’t just a law that says when two men marry it's bad – it says that union is illegal. It becomes punishable. It not only says that marriage is defined by one man and one woman (though history would prove otherwise); it says that any sort of civil bind – domestic partnerships, civil partnerships, and the benefits thereof – are void. They no longer exist. That gay couple you avoid talking to living down the street, who bought a house and have been together for years? Any legal agreements they’ve made regarding taxes, powers of attorney, benefits, and social security are void. They cannot open a joint checking account, they cannot list each other as beneficiaries of benefits, they cannot make medical decisions for one another, and they cannot share the same health coverage. The civil liberty that you enjoy, they are now forbidden to enjoy.
I know what the Bible says about homosexuality. I also know what’s in my heart when I am with my gay friends whom I love. Moreover, if opposing this cruel and disingenuous amendment (the possibility of which is already forcing two very dear people I love to move because they can’t own property in the state they’re in because they’re gay) means that I’m on the wrong side of the church, then I’ll take that chance. But I don’t think that I am; I’m on the wrong side of the state.
That gay marriage threatens or destroys the sanctity of marriage, necessitating a federal amendment, is a false argument. This amendment is not about sanctity; it’s about the relationship of the citizen to the state. Considering our long-held separation of church and state, our government is not in the business of codifying sanctity – at least it shouldn’t be. And the concept of freedom of religion is not freedom from religion; it’s the freedom to practice ones beliefs, even if that belief does not include the presence of God, without fearing censure from the state. The religious definition of marriage is therefore safe; it is unimpeachable.
If the religious value of marriage is safe, then what are we fighting for? My gay and lesbian friends are fighting for hospital visitations; they’re fighting for social security benefits; they’re fighting for inheritance rights; they’re fighting for parental rights; they’re fighting to retain their basic national identity, in all its meanings. If they already can’t fight in our armies and navies, if they already can’t be who they are in private, let alone in public, if they can’t have the right to raise children, if they can’t share benefits, property or enter into agreements recognized by the state, then what exactly is the purpose of the amendment?
Oppose homosexuality all you like. I’m not saying you don’t have to. But when the government starts taking away rights because of something that’s private (it has nothing to do with their legal status as citizens) and you support it, you’re valuing discrimination and that makes you a bigot and a homophobe.
(edited because 'unimpeachable' was the word i was going for.)