Some More Thoughts on Same Sex Civil Marriage

I thought I’d get past Holy Week before delving into this in detail, now more timely that Vermont has legislated same sex civil marriage.

In response to my last post on Iowa’s Supreme Court decision, I received the following response from a friend on Facebook:

Living in the bible belt, and being very much a religious liberal. I get into quite a few discussions on this subject. I think this was a good ruling, I find the justification less legal hocus-pocus than matter of fact. I think the state has no dog in this fight except to do what’s right in terms of not putting legal impediments in front of people in how they want to live their lives (at least if not harming others).

I understand why some church communities are concerned – the argument I’ve heard is that they will force our minister to Marry gays in our church – which I think is paranoid of course, but there are a lot of people out there who don’t think the state has a real interest in their rights. But I would just say its fear of what they don’t know.

I just don’t understand how gay marriage threatens heterosexual couples, and why it seems to scare so many people.

Anyway, interesting to watch this progress.

First: it’s nice to have a reasonable conversation with a liberal.  Part of that comes from the fact that we went to prep school together, but it’s refreshing all the same.

There are a couple of things to consider.

The first concerns the issue of forcing ministers in all churches to marry same sex couples.  The problem here is our legal system.  When a minster, rabbi or imam marries someone in the U.S., they acting in two capacities: for God, and for the state.  The state issues marriage licences, but the officiant ultimately solemnises the marriage.  In doing so he or she is acting as an agent of the state.

Once same sex civil marriage is achieved, homosexuals can and will sue ministers who won’t go along with marrying same sex couples on the basis of their being agents of the state because, in that capacity, they are engaging in illegal discrimination, much as, say, someone at the drivers licence office (another agent of the state) refuse them a licence because they are LGBT.  And, knowing our legal system, they’ll probably win  unless the legislation (or court decision) gives a specific religious exemption, which is a hit or miss proposition.

The way out of this is to get ministers away from being agents of the state.  Recently a Hispanic colleague in the ministry “serenaded” his wife on Facebook for their 25th anniversary.  He’s from Uruguay.  They met at summer camp meeting in February (an interesting concept,) and then were married twice: once by the state and once by the church.  That’s the way it’s done in much of the world (things get complicated when it’s not done in that order, as Prince Alexander of Belgium found out.)

There are some in the LGBT community who want to do just that in this country, which–following an example that goes back to Calvin’s Geneva–has heretofore preferred to empower ministers to solemnise marriages.  But the simpler solution is to get rid of civil marriage altogether.

The second thing concerns his comment that “…there are a lot of people out there who don’t think the state has a real interest in their rights.”  The issue of “compelling state interest” is a legal one that has gotten a lot of play in this issue.  What that interest is depends upon how the state sees its own role.

If the state sees its own role as a facilitator and enabler of its citizens, then he’s right.  In this country the state has done this, allowing people to pursue their own gain and good.  This has resulted in no small measure in the success this country’s been.

If, on the other hand, the state sees itself primary as a governor/regulator/power holder, then people’s freedom is a real nuisance to the state, to be curbed when the state feels it has a “compelling interest” to do so.  What that “compelling interest” is depends on who’s in power at the moment, and most Evangelicals know they aren’t.

But that concept of “compelling interest” could extend to marriage and family in general.  One of the big reasons why the U.S. has had such a hard time of it in Iraq is that it was busy nation building in a culture where family, clan and tribe come first, and that priority is buttressed by the religion.  For a country (especially a multi-ethnic one like ours) to really work requires that the family give up some of its priority to the nation, and on the whole the Iraqis haven’t shown the inclination to make that a reality.

To insure their “compelling interest,” the state could and does regulate family life.  We have quite a lot of that in children’s services, public education and the like.  In this scenario the family becomes an extension of the state.  It’s conceivable that the state could then “prequalify” marriages to insure its interests and control are protected (it is a license, after all.)  If same sex couples further the control of the state, than all the more reason why the state should promote it.

At this point it’s clear (to me at least) that the elitist snobs who have the upper hand now gravitate towards the latter view, which is why many are nervous at what’s coming down these days.

If there is no civil marriage, there is nothing to control or regulate, and that is a plus.

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