Gay Marriage, Let’s Talk Logic and Legality

I just can’t figure out why Americans apparently oppose gay marriage so strongly, i.e. voting yes on California Proposition 8 in Tuesday’s election. Forget popular culture (and all its various positive and negative portrayals of homosexuality), forget the myriad opinions held by religious and non religious Americans, let’s talk logic and legality here. I keep hearing interviews with religious leaders on the radio—NPR and BBC both—who recite the standard rhetoric about how the sacrament of marriage is defined as the union between man and woman.
I can accept that. I can accept that the Christian holy sacrament of marriage is the union between man and woman.
In Wikipedia one can find the following: “A sacrament, as defined in Hexam’s Concise Dictionary of Religion is “a Rite in which God is uniquely active.” Augustine of Hippo defined a Christian sacrament as “a visible sign of an invisible reality.” The Anglican Book of Common Prayer speaks of them as “an outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace.” Examples of sacraments are baptism, membership into a church and attendance of mass, marriage, and anointing of the sick (or last rites). “A sacrament is a religious symbol or rite which conveys divine grace, blessing, or sanctity upon the believer who participates in it, or a tangible symbol which represents an intangible reality.”
Because America is built on respect for all religions, I can respect perfectly well the terms and definitions of Christian holy sacraments and support of the civil rights of homosexuals. The question is, however, why is the United States government legally sanctioning a holy sacrament? The US government does not offer legal incentive for, or recognition of, any other holy sacrament. The US Government does not offer tax benefits to baptized persons, confirmed persons, or give more life insurance to survivors of persons who receive last rites. The US government does not offer tax breaks for those persons who regularly attend religious ceremonies in general or Catholic mass in particular. In no other case but marriage is there an equation between Christian holy sacrament and legal status. The reason is because America has professed the separation of church and state as one of its charter beliefs.
Many straight people get married but are not religious persons. Plenty of straight persons get married in city hall and do not attend church, nor do they have their marriage blessed by a priest. The numbers are truly debatable, but polls show that less than 40% of Americans attend church regularly (some polls say the numbers are as low at 17%). A whole lot more persons than go to church get married, divorced and remarried (which is also a violation of holy sacrament). If the U.S. Government is to treat marriage as a holy sacrament—in which case the voices of religious leaders on the sanctity of marriage would hold water—then marriage should be the exclusive realm of believers in marriage as a holy sacrament (whether non-Christians should be included would then also be up for debate, since marriage is not, for example, a Muslim sacrament). In that case, the legal recognition of marriage as religious sacrament under U.S. law would be in violation of the separation of church and state.
If, on the other hand, Americans value the separation of church and state, U.S. law should have a definition aside from the religious definition of sacrament given to it by Christianity. And Christian marriage can remain a holy and symbolic act recognized by God alone—and if He only recognizes love between man and woman—well then what are we going to do about it?!
The U.S. government has many reasons for continuing to sanction and legally acknowledge unions between two persons, whether they call it marriage or begin to use exclusively the term “civil union.” For one thing, “marriage” is a social tradition that has moved far beyond religion (quite simply, it’s still popular), and secondly, it is often (but not always) the nucleus of our smallest social organizing unit—the family—that lives and works and survives together within a capitalist system. A government who is determined to care for all of its citizens, especially those who are dependent—e.g., children, elderly, and the disabled—must also be concerned with maintaining and supporting a family unit. In fact, without organizing units like families, the government would be in charge of dependents as individual dependents of the government. The government has every incentive to maintain the family unit. Perhaps instead of just civil union, family units should be allowed to register together—whether the unit be two men and a disabled sister, or a single mother, her daughter, and her mother.
But let’s not move too fast!?
For now, I think it’s reasonable to assert that the marriage/civil union that is legally recognized in a court of law (of a government that professes separation of church and state) should be based on an agreement between two consenting adults who want to care for each other and their dependents for an extended period of time, want to work together for mutual survival, and wish to be acknowledged as a family unit for the symbolic or social status it gives them within their community. This should not be confused with, but sometimes coincides with, Christian holy sacrament.
I was disappointed to hear that so many Latinos and African Americans oppose gay marriage, especially given the diverse and extensive family units characteristic of many Latino and African American families in the United States—not to mention the commonalities between struggles for civil rights. But Christians across all races should recognize that their ability to freely practice their religion in the United States is predicated on the rights and responsibilities of a nation that separates church and state. The Christian sacrament of marriage should not be confused with a legal recognition of marriage.
I see no reason why, given the diversity of family units across all races and religions in the United States—from single parents to siblings raising families together to adopted children to dependent elderly to disabled cousins—Americans cannot recognize the equal validity of a family unit anchored by marriage between persons of the same gender.
And if the only word that’s left to say is “sex” … sex is the one reason why we can’t seem to allow two men to marry or two women to marry … let’s start regulating sex between straight married couples and see how far we get.
Let’s pull into the 21st Century folks.


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