Location: United States

Friday, February 25, 2005

Marriage is Religious Oppression

Next month, my wife and I will celebrate the second anniversary of our government oppressing our right to participate in a rite of our faith. It just so happens that this coincides perfectly with the anniversary of our marriage. In fact, the two are intricately intertwined.
Merriam-Webster gives two basic definitions of the word “marriage”. One specifies that it is between opposite sexes and one states it can be like that, but with same sex couples. It is helpful, however, to remember that dictionaries are only catalogues of how language is used and, if misused long enough, the meaning of a word can change. This means that the fuss over whether it is rightfully only for heterosexuals or if it can be between a homosexual couple is in a state of flux. Where both definitions agree is that it is a legal state of existing in a consensual and contractual relationship.
In other words marriage is simply a legal contract joining individuals into one common legal household. While Rick Santorum may be right that this broad definition would open the door to a discussion on polygamy (you know, like the Mormons and the Biblical patriarchs), it definitely does not open the door to pedophilia or “man on dog”. The fact that the Honorable Senator from Pennsylvania even pulled those comments out of his mind tells a lot about the way he views the world. Children and animals are not able to enter legal contracts because they are not able to give full consent. Therefore, the conversation comes to an abrupt halt with the reactionary rhetoric.
Legal contracts are governed by the state – meaning the government. In general, our forefathers thought it best that local issues be controlled by local governments and only severe, national issues that could not be handled adequately by the states would be kicked up to the federal level. In other words, they thought that local governments could probably figure out who should be allowed to legally set up a household. The flurry of anti-gay marriage proposals would seem to find their faith ill-placed.
This country was founded upon the idea of maximizing liberty. If this is in anyway construed to mean something other than being able to legally establish a unified household with whomever consents to doing so with you, then it is a tangled and arbitrary attack on liberty. Gay marriage advocates are right to point out that similar laws forbidding white women from marrying black men or Christians from marrying Catholics or Jews have long been stricken down – and rightfully so. Any definition of justice entails equal respect under the law – no less for a Jew, a black man, or a homosexual. Presumably, even if they are all the same person.
Holy Matrimony, on the other hand, is a Rite of the Christian Church. Every religion has its own matrimonial rites – and each religion is guaranteed the right to practice these Rites under the First Amendment to the US Constitution. Christian matrimony has no standing above Hindu matrimony or Muslim matrimony or Wiccan matrimony. Although any of these religions might find something to protest about one or more of the others, they are all share the same protection and guarantee. The state is not to interfere with the pull of our souls and our hearts to our God (or gods).
Why then did I have to pay the City of Jersey City to get a marriage license before the Catholic priest could perform the Rite of Holy Matrimony in a Catholic church? The Catholic Church recognizes seven Sacraments, of which one is Holy Matrimony. The others are Baptism, Holy Communion, Confirmation, Last Rites, Holy Orders, and Confession. Why is it that the state has singled out one – Holy Matrimony – to blend into a quasi-legal standing? If the state is going to require that I register for Holy Matrimony, why can it not do the same for Baptism or Confession? Given the never-ending budget deficits that governments on all levels are facing, perhaps a fifteen dollar Baptism license would be a good thing to close the gap.
It is the insidious blending of church and state that the founders worked so hard to prevent. The reason for it was, and is simple – it destroys the focus of both institutions. The church should be busy caring for its members and those in the community who are sick, poor, and homeless. It should not be organizing protest over who can sign a legal document. The church is right to defend its ability to set membership guidelines and to self-determine who is able to participate in the Rites of the Church. It is wrong, however, to overstep its boundaries and attempt to enforce this in the legal sphere of the state.


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