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When the state of Massachusetts gave same-sex couples the right to marry in 2003 President George W. Bush declared, “Marriage is a sacred institution between a man and a woman. Today’s decision …violates this important principle. I will work … to defend the sanctity of marriage.”
Doesn’t the word sanctity infer holiness?
Whether the ceremony is sacred or secular, you must first apply for a marriage license from the state. In other words, marriage is a contract. One might assume, then, all marriages are created equal. But, the lesbian, gay, bi-sexual, and transgender (LGBT) community has sought equal protection for basic human rights, since the 1970s, including their right to marry.
Marriage was founded on the necessity for our survival
Seventy-eight percent of Americans identify with some form of Christian religion, so it comes as no surprise our country’s guiding principles come from the Bible. Thousands of years ago, however, unions were decided based upon the practical purpose for physical safety. During the agricultural revolution, families evolved into larger units to share in heavy workloads.
When did we become so sanctimonious about marriage?
Elizabeth Gilbert discusses the religious evolution of marriage in her book Committed. She reports that, around 730 A.D., Saint John of Damascus instructed the new, idealistic Christians to “create an exact replica of heaven on earth by ‘renouncing marriage and imitating angels’”. This new ideal had been modeled by Christ: celibacy and purity. Read closely: marriage was a sin! During the tenth century, we shift again to see marriage as a highly efficient business arrangement. Great sums of land, livestock and wealth traded hands and nations. Then, as the Catholic Church began to play a larger role in the political and financial landscape of Europe, it secured jurisdiction over marriages across all nations.
The sanctity of marriage is a fairly recent phenomenon
In 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) which defined marriage as “only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word ‘spouse’ refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife”. When asked why DOMA was enacted, Congressman James M. Talent (R-MO) replied, “..it is an act of hubris to believe that marriage can be infinitely malleable…without destroying its…stability and what it means to our society…”
With a divorce rate of 50%, the so-called defense of marriage as a revered institution must be seen as a defense of a particular social, or political, order. Author Nancy Cott writes, “Christian activists who oppose same-sex marriages don’t hide the fact hey connect the nature of marriage with the nature of America’s social order.”
When faith and laws are wed, we divorce ourselves from our humanity
Regardless of religious or social beliefs, I fear that Congress will continue to work to enact bans on same-sex marriages, and the courts will repeatedly declare the laws unconstitutional. If marriage is a legal contract, then the separation of church and state must be upheld to protect the integrity of our freedoms. One religion, one group, one faction, cannot impose their beliefs upon another and vice versa. Is it not the government’s duty to protect its citizen’s rights, even if that means defying our “religious values”? (Mad props to Cheryl Petersen for this video!)