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Same-sex marriage: rights and wrongs
By George A. Ricker

The reaction of many Americans to the issue of same-sex marriage astounds me. Otherwise liberal or progressive people seem to want to run away from it. During the 2004 presidential campaign, Democrat John Kerry said he “opposed” gay marriage but supported civil unions. A position that was mirrored—though with considerably less fanfare—by Republican George W. Bush who said, in the week prior to the election, that he, too, supported civil unions for homosexual couples. The only difference, a large one to be sure, was that Bush favors a constitutional amendment banning gay marriage and Kerry thinks it unnecessary.

Apparently, we Americans think the best way to “protect the sanctity of marriage” is to deny the right to marry to people who love one another and want to establish a more binding relationship but happen to be of the same sex. Why is that?

More importantly why is there such moral confusion on the issue? The Religious Right suffers from no such confusion. They insist that opposing gay marriage while supporting civil unions attempts to make a distinction without a difference. Frankly, they are right.

Let’s be clear about this. Homosexuals are American citizens. As such, they are entitled to precisely the same rights and protections as all other American citizens. No more. No less. Those who insist on treating them as lesser beings are guilty of a grave injustice. On what basis that is not an affront to the very concept of equal justice under the law can we deny the right to marry to gay and lesbian couples?

Most of the objections to gay marriage appear to be based on religious reasoning: “God created Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve ... yuk, yuk, yuk” and that sort of thing. But the Bible is mute on the subject of gay marriage. What the Bible says is that homosexuals should be put to death. Leviticus is clear on that subject (Lev. 20:13), and Paul echoes the sentiment in the New Testament (Rom. 1:24-32). So if we are going to take a biblical view of things—and I’m not suggesting we should—we ought to be sentencing homosexuals to death, not just preventing them from marrying. Of course, we also would be executing any men who committed adultery with married women and the women as well (Lev. 20:10). Then too, we would be executing many other people for many other reasons. My point here is that if we are going to adopt the Bible as the guide for how our society is supposed to operate, we are going to need to open many more death chambers. So much for a “culture of life.”

I don’t say this to make light of religious objections to homosexuality. Certainly, those who accept religious teachings that homosexuality is a sin should conduct themselves accordingly. However, their religious beliefs cannot be controlling on anyone else. Most Christians are fine people. But most Christians are much less familiar with what the Bible really teaches than they ought to be. If they were more familiar with it, I suspect they would not be so likely to shout “Amen” every time a preacher invokes a biblical injunction.

Besides, our government is a secular institution. The rules it makes must be based on secular, not religious, reasoning. When it comes to prohibiting activities, the only legitimate reason for a governmental ban on any action by adults is that it causes harm to others or infringes on their rights. That is not the case with same-sex marriage. If two consenting adults decide to marry, their decision neither harms anyone else nor infringes on their rights. That other people may not approve of the marriage, for whatever reason, is not sufficient justification for saying that it may not take place. Remember, we are not talking about forcing anyone to do anything. The only real issue ought to be whether or not homosexuals are entitled to the same rights and protections as heterosexuals in our society. I think the answer to that question is an unequivocal “yes.”

My wife, Judy, and I have been married for nearly 29 years and hope to remain together for the rest of our days. And that, in itself, raises an interesting question. How does it “protect” the validity of my marriage to refuse to let gay and lesbian couples marry? What injury would it do my relationship with my wife to permit other people to enter into similar relationships with partners of their choosing? The Jerry Falwells and Rick Santorums of the world may want to insist that allowing same-sex marriage is tantamount to legalizing bestiality, etc., but the notion is absurd. Such claims only illustrate how intellectually threadbare their position really is.

The bottom line on all of this is that there is no valid reason to refuse to permit same-sex couples the same legal rights as heterosexual couples. Biblical injunctions are not germane to the issue. Those who wish to live their lives according to religious or biblical edicts certainly have every right to do so. However, they have no right to insist that anyone else follow their lead.

Our government was created to serve the secular needs of a secular society. It derives its authority from the consent of the governed, not from a god or the holy book of any religion. The rights conferred on the citizenry of this nation apply equally to all and may not be abridged by the majority, regardless of their religious preferences. Certainly, churches who don’t want to marry same-sex couples cannot and should not be required to do so. Such stipulations are the business of individual religions and religious congregations.

However, there is no valid justification to prohibit same-sex couples from having the same right to form relationships that are legally recognized in our society. There are only religious opinions that argue against such recognition. It is tragic that so many states have seen fit to write bigotry into their state constitutions. One can only hope that those who voted in favor of such legislation will come to realize the injustice they are perpetrating and will undo that action. Same-sex marriage may be wrong in the eyes of some among the religious, but that is not and cannot be a sufficient cause for making it illegal. Those who insist it is should be ashamed of themselves. And those who genuinely believe in morality and moral standards ought to run, not walk, to protect their fellow citizens from such discrimination.
© 2006 by George A. Ricker

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