Sen. Judi Buckley has shown more political courage than is typical by submitting a bill in the V.I. Legislature that would allow same-sex marriage, and it has already begun drawing impassioned arguments from both sides. It’s one of those subjects that can be guaranteed to generate more heat than light.
The problem, I’ve always thought, was that we have one word – marriage – but it has two different meanings.
In the religious sense, marriage is a sacrament, a religious rite that unites a couple in a special bond sanctified by God and shared as part of a religious community. Most religions specifically cite procreation as a reason – if not the reason, for marriage.
My childhood training dredges up this catechism answer to the question, "What is a sacrament?" "A sacrament is an outward sign, instituted by Christ, to give grace." If sacraments, including marriage, are given by God, then certainly the religion, not the state, is the place to decide how God wants that applied.
But marriage is also a civil contract, in which two people commit to living together in a stable relationship and for which they receive a host of legal benefits – tax breaks, spousal survival, employment and medical benefits.
Buckley’s law specifically addresses marriage as a civil contract and explicitly does not require religions to recognize or perform marriages between same-sex partners. In fact, under the First Amendment’s protection of religious freedom, the state does not have the power to tell a religion what it must consider as a sacrament.
But by the same token, religions have no business telling the state what it must consider a valid contract. Under the First Amendment, the church is forbidden from determining for the state who can enter into a contract and for what reasons.
People are free to believe what they want. They are not free to impose that religious belief on others. They cannot claim the right to practice their religion free of state intervention and then claim the right for their religion to interfere with the state, insisting that some people should be denied the same rights as others simply because their church doesn’t approve of who they love.
As someone you might be familiar with said, "Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s."
If God really does abhor homosexuality the way the religious fundamentalists claim, I suspect he’ll be able to take care of the situation when the last trumpet sounds. In the meantime, we live in this world, where believers and nonbelievers live together and form governments to handle civic affairs. And we have agreed in our Constitution that religious freedom includes the freedom to be religious in different ways, including the right not to be religious at all.
It is not necessary to support or approve of homosexuality to see the fairness of a law that would extend the same rights to all citizens. As has been said, "If you don’t believe in gay marriage, don’t have one." Nor is it necessary to share religious beliefs to understand that for some the subject is a sin. Understanding and agreeing are two different things.
It’s called the marriage equality movement because that’s the key word – equality. Proponents aren’t asking for anything special. They’re asking for the same rights – civil marriage rights – that are granted to other citizens. It’s a slippery slope when we start trying to apportion rights based on what group happens to be in power. It wasn’t that long ago in our nation’s history that we thought blacks shouldn’t vote or women shouldn’t own property. A system that grants rights based on a group’s current popularity can’t be trusted to protect anyone’s rights.
If rights aren’t secured for all citizens, they aren’t secure for any. By protecting the rights of people you disagree with, you’re defending your own.
And regardless of how you view homosexuality, that should be something that everyone can agree with.