March 28, 2013

On Marriage and Justice

I have not made that red square with the pink equals sign into my Facebook profile picture.  Neither have I shared the equals sign with the cross defending the "Biblical Definition of Marriage."

It's not just that I don't want to offend anyone -- although I don't.  I respect my friends who believe they are defending sacred truth in opposing same-sex marriage.  I respect my gay and lesbian friends (and their defenders) who want to marry the person they love.  I oppose neither difficult grappling with Biblical truth nor the best efforts of any person to carve out a bit of temporal happiness and companionship on the long journey of life.

What I do oppose is a democratic government that preserves the rights of some while denying those same rights to others.  I'm no legal scholar.  I don't have at my fingertips the history of the involvement of the states or the federal government in making marriage laws.  Such laws would include legal minimum ages for marriage and laws prohibiting members of different "races" from intermarrying (a practice that seemed as obvious to some when those laws were established as it is repugnant to most of us today).  That body of law also includes certain benefits for couples whose marriages are recognized under the law, including tax advantages.

I'm no libertarian, heaven knows.  I grew up in a family of FDR-loving, blue-collar Democrats.  I grew up to be the most conservative Democrat among us, but one who still generally favors a government that is actively involved in the grand project of improving people's lives.  But I wonder if the government ought to get itself out of the marriage business.

Why did the priest who married my husband and me have to sign some official government documents to make our union legal?  Why is there this crossover between what we call civil marriage and what my husband and I entered into in a religious (sacramental in our tradition) rite?

Do we need the government to sanction any sort of religious commitment?  If the government wants to regulate or established civic benefits for people in committed unions, why doesn't it do so apart from any sort of religious apparatus?  Why not civil unions for all couples and religious (or spiritual) marriages for any couple whose faith community wants to bless that union?

Now, I'm not so na├»ve as to think that:  1) No one has come up with this idea before, or 2) We can easily divide the concept of marriage, which now is an amalgam of civic and religious traditions.  Nor do I think that this answers the question of what God might intend regarding the marriage of two men or two women.  I do think it addresses more honestly questions about fairness and justice.

I wish I could say that I myself am not torn.  I want to defend the hearts and family lives of gay and lesbian couples who want what I have with my husband.  I also want to make sense of what the Bible says about marriage.  I am no Solomon; I do think there are conflicts between these two views that are beyond my capacity to reconcile satisfactorily.

But unless we, as a society, can figure out some other way to extend all the rights and privileges of citizenship to all couples irrespective of sexual orientation, I think the only just thing to do is to sanction marriage between any pair of consenting adults, man and woman, man and man, woman and woman.

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