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Feb 28 2013

[guest post] Sorry, You Don’t Own Marriage

My friend Seth, who’s becoming somewhat of a regular around here, returns with some observations about the same-sex marriage “debate” (if you could call it that).

I don’t know how many of you reading this right now have read any other of my limited contributions to the blogosphere, but if you have, you’ll know that I’ve been hopelessly indoctrinated into the gay agenda. So, unrepentant heathen that I am, you can imagine my reaction when this little gem of a quote from the debate over the Illinois same-sex marriage bill floated across my news feed:

“It is not a civil right, and marriage was created by God and not be modified by anybody except God.” (Source: Equality Illinois, corrected for grammar and punctuation because GAH)

Naturally this kicked the snark center of my brain into full gear. Gay people can’t get married because the Christian God holds the patent on marriage? Who else does this affect? Are all those poor Hindu couples technically unmarried because they didn’t go through the proper (i.e. Christian) procedure? What about me? I’m a Buddhist and an agnostic, does that mean that the children I father are doomed to be bastards born out of wedlock? What about my cousin, who just went up to a county courthouse and signed a paper with her fiancee—does that have the Divine Stamp of Approval?

That’s when a legitimate thought broke through the sarcasm. What about my cousin? She’s married in the (for lack of a better phrase) bare-bones legal sense, with no religious ceremonies or oversight. But she’s still married. I dare anybody to try and challenge that. They’d get laughed out of court.

And that’s what this is all about, because whoever supplied the above quote was wrong, wrong, wrong.

Certainly, marriage can be closely associated with religion: see every fictional depiction of it ever, which almost always involves it taking place in a church unless there’s a particular reason for it not to. But in this day and age, marriage is not controlled by religion. If it were, the entire institution would be an unmanageable clusterfuck—look at the sheer amount of religions we have in this country, and how many different interpretations of marriage they present. Rather, marriage is a way of legally acknowledging that two people have decided to live cooperatively, and to make that arrangement more convenient for them. Like my cousin, all you really have to do to be married is to sign a paper saying that you are; everything else is window dressing to make you feel like you’re square with your god and your family.

So marriage actually has nothing to do with religion as far as the law is concerned, and this is the law we’re talking about here, being, you know, legislation. And for a polyreligious country like ours, the law has an obligation to apply in equal measures to all citizens regardless of the proscriptions of any one particular religion. In other words: yes, the bible does say that homosexuality is a sin. No, that doesn’t give you the legal right to keep them from marrying, any more than you have the legal right to burn a priest’s daughter for being unchaste (Leviticus 21:9) or execute an adulterer or a child who curses their parents (Leviticus 20:9-10).

Your religion says gay marriage isn’t okay? Fine. Don’t let them get married in your church. That’s your religion’s domain and therefore your prerogative. But when it comes to the legal right to sign that piece of paper? Nobody gets to touch that, not you, not the Jews, not the Hindus, not the Pagans, and not us Buddhists. If you still want to claim that your God has exclusive rights to marriage, then you’d better get cracking on a bill that keeps us nonbelievers off of his turf. Go ahead. See how it goes.

Seth Wenger is a senior neuroscience major at Earlham College and a practicing Buddhist. He can usually be found on Facebook, snarking about life, current events, and politics.

14 comments

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  1. 1
    smrnda

    On a discussion online, someone told me that as a woman who wants to marry another woman, I already had the right – I could just find a church that would recognize my marriage, without any actual legal standing.

    My response to that was calling that an equivalent ‘right to marriage’ is like saying if women were banned from voting or holding office, but an informal poll of women said I should be mayor, that it’s the same as being elected mayor.

    The other thing, regardless of where marriage originated, the State *OWNS* marriage today. If you are married by the State, you are married, and nothing else even matters.

    1. 1.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      Er…at that point you could just have a friend pretend to be an ordained minister and have a really lovely wedding ceremony and basically be married in the eyes of your friends and family. That’s lovely! Except when your partner needs your health insurance or citizenship or whatnot, you’re still screwed.

      1. 1.1.1
        smrnda

        True – I mean, ceremonies can be nice, but issues like health insurance and who can make decisions if you’re incapacitates and whether or not when I *die* my partner can get retirements benefits I earned are kind of a big deal. Of course, I live in a state where same sex marriage is legal, so good there, but I have to think about everybody in the rest of the country.

        1. 1.1.1.1
          Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

          Yup, and you’d also have to consider what would happen if you visited a state where it’s not. I’m actually not sure how that works. If a married same-sex couple visits a state where there’s no recognition of same-sex marriages/unions and one of them has to go to the hospital, what happens??

          1. Kate Donovan

            I know in TX, one awful problem is that same-gender couples that get married in a different state can’t get legal help when they divorce in TX. It’s a shitty, horrible situation for them.

  2. 2
    maddog1129

    I think you mean, “in this day and age, marriage is NOT controlled by religion” in para #6, sentence #2. Unless I am misreading something.

    1. 2.1
      Miri, Professional Fun-Ruiner

      You’re right; that was my mis-editing of Seth’s post. Thanks!

  3. 3
    smrnda

    My solution to the problem of states that might not recognize my right are to avoid them like a toxic waste dump. I’m fortunate that neither me nor my partner have to go anywhere.

    I am also aware that there have been instances when say, a same-sex partner wasn’t allowed to see their spouse in the hospital when they had the legal right and hospital staff and other such people just plead ignorance and get a slap on the wrist after the fact. This makes us very cautious about what doctors, hospitals, and any number of other things we use. Then again, given how people like to turn their personal religious beliefs into an excuse to piss and shit on consumers or patients, it might be a good idea for anyone to do the same.

    1. 3.1
      Seth Wenger

      See, I think that the whole religious freedom argument needs to be turned into a flowchart because it’s kind of absurdly simple.

      “You are practicing your religion. Are you forcing someone else to abide by the rules of your religion against their will?”

      No -> “You’re good.”
      Yes -> “Sorry, not covered.”

      1. 3.1.1
        Lindsay

        That flowchart is GENIUS.

  4. 4
    Danielle Steele

    I’m hoping that this is an issue we’re beginning to move through – even if it’s slowly. One by one, we have states legalizing gay marriage. (An aside – I think the term is funny – as if they are engaged in any different type of relationship than I will be as a married straight person. I mean, does gay marriage have more perks? If I’m gay- married, does my spouse automatically not leave dirty dishes? Do we not have to talk about finances or who takes the dog to the vet or organize our schedules? Because you can sign us up! This straight-marriage thing still leaves me looking at it askance…but I digress.) And history has taught us that we will win battles like this one. It is a CIVIL right. A marriage performed by the church is a religious ceremony. Even if you get married in a church, you still have to go to City Hall and GET a marriage license. The church can’t offer you that. Even the church can’t do something and it be legal without the state’s stamp of approval. Also, we have some pretty awesome churches that either already recognize gay marriage or are verrrrrrry close to doing so. I feel bad for someone if they’ve been a devout whateverdenomination their entire lives and their denomination won’t recognize their union. That SUCKS and there are no two ways about it. But a) as there are churches that WILL recognize a gay union, people have the option of switching. It might suck, but that option exists. And b) churches still have the right to believe what they believe. I hate that there are people out there that somehow believe their GOD justifies their repression of other people, but they do have the *right* to think that. They do not, however, have the actual right to REPRESS others (because if they did, I’m pretty sure we’d still have slavery). I think our STATE is in the wrong – honoring a religious belief as if it’s morally correct and denying its (tax-paying!!!) citizens equal rights.

    Also, as healthcare reform happens, everyone will have access to healthcare (at least, that’s the point, right?). So, I’m assuming that being straight, gay, married or unmarried, healthcare will cease to be an issue (again, I know we have a long and imperfect road ahead of us and I’m not saying it will be easy/correct right away, but we have started down it, thank goodness). Now, in regard to insurance being granted to you just because you are the spouse of someone – well, who knows how that will play out? Lots of companies are denying medical coverage to spouses or their children because it’s so damn expensive, nevermind what their sexual orientation is.

    Oh! And one final thought: I don’t think God cares if you’re gay, straight or asexual. I really don’t. I think there are way bigger issues than the gender of the person you’re with. How you treat someone, how you live your life, how you make your choices. Those are the big issues (to me). And since I don’t believe in a Creator that’s a bigot (or an asshole), then I have to think that God is there on that issue.

    Lastly, all those old bigots will die someday. So, when I meet one, I am as gracious, patient and kind as possible. Because I am going to outlive them and my generation is going to get this right!

  5. 5
    Improbable Joe, bearer of the Official SpokesGuitar

    My wife and I got married specifically for health insurance. We were already living together, and loving each other, but none of that got her on my work-based insurance without paying a hefty tax penalty. We’re both atheists, does that invalidate our marriage? Nope, because we got it legally done, and Jeebus has nothing to do with it.

  6. 6
    Bill Openthalt

    Here in my neck of the continental European woods, religious marriage is an option – you have to get married in the town hall first. Only between 10% and 30% of couples get married in church. In addition, marriage is about obligations more than rights:

    - Spouses have a duty to support each other financially
    - Spouses have a duty to support each other’s children until the end of their studies including PhD
    - Spouses have a duty to support each other’s parents and grandparents
    - Spouses have a duty to earn a living commensurate with their abilities (degree, age, health) so they can provide the appropriate level of support to their children (i.e., one cannot have a law degree but work as a dishwasher not to pay alimony or child support)

    In addition, the Social Centres run by the municipalities will, for example, fund the old-age home of a parent, and recover the monies from the children based on their ability to pay. The same with support due to children (the Social Centre pays a living allowance to all needy residents, and recovers it from the parents in the case of children who elected to live alone).

    It’s not that one gets off scott-free when one isn’t married — children who weren’t recognised by the biological father can sue the men their mother had sex with during the window of opportunity leading to their birth, for parental support.

  7. 7
    Carlos Cabanita

    Here in Europe marriages are secular first. The ceremony is almost always held at the mayor’s or at another local public office. Sometimes, for a fee, the officers go to the house or restaurant where the wedding party takes place. The religious pomp in a church is an option and, I think, has no legal standing, at least in the countries I know. In the US, I guess the church ministers serve sometimes as public celebrants in behalf of the state, so the secular aspect of the marriage is not apparent to some. (Maybe I’m mistaken).
    I think something went wrong with marriages when churches were evicted from the theocratic position they held for centuries and modern states were built. Churches had taken charge of the registry of the population, keeping records of births, deaths and marriages. Modern states took over those functions, but I think marriage should have become a private contract. Say, like creating a company. It still regulates duties and rights and could as well give access to state benefits, just like companies get them.
    Private contracts could be much more flexible and free from state and religious ideology. They could be written to accommodate any number and gender of participants for any length of time, under different conditions of fidelity, loyalty, financial involvement, providing for children, and so on. No more one size fits all.

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