Arguments against equal marriage: #2 Same-sex marriages harm the “sanctity” of marriage
This is one of the arguments clearly based on religious belief, and it holds the least power of all in a democratic society.
First of all, this one instantly annuls every heterosexual marriage on the planet in which one or both of the partners is an atheist. None of their marriages are “sanctified,” either by the beliefs of the participants or the beliefs of the officiating body. This argument also makes invalid any marriage that was ever performed by officially atheist communist states in the twentieth century as well as the remaining officially atheist states in the twenty first. That’s an awful lot of marriages annulled by one statement.
Let us first discuss the nature of a democratic state, because that is the key component in refuting this argument.
Whatever their original intention, the evolution of democratic states has seen their purpose become, today, completely secular. This is a very good thing, when you think carefully about it. The main goal of democratic states is the governing of all citizens in a way that treats them as equals under the law, regardless of religious or political belief, race, or other factors (which, in most democratic countries, include sexual orientation, even if this concept is frequently only given lip service).
By keeping democratic governments and legal systems secular, several things are accomplished. There can be freedom of religious belief, because religious beliefs are not required for citizenship or legal status. No one religion is preferred, and none is penalized. Religion is, in fact, irrelevant when one’s civil, legal status is involved. This is the theory, and the goal is to practise it more perfectly as the governmental system is democratically refined. (There are, of course, difficulties and some clashes, and working through these is part of the refinement over time.)
Also, no religious law can be imposed on someone of one faith, by a law maker or law enforcer of another faith. One is free to be Buddhist, Wiccan, Christian, or Jedi — and the law is not supposed to care one way or another. It doesn’t matter, if you’re challenging a parking ticket or charging someone with trespassing, whether you’re Muslim or atheist. In addition, no law and no judge can require religious things of you. No Christian judge can legally require you to wear a cross, no Jewish judge who keeps kosher can impose on you that you can’t eat pork, no conservative Muslim judge can require all women to wear the hijab. No vegetarian Hindu judge can forbid anyone, by law, to eat meat.
If you think about it, this secularism is a wonderful protection for everyone. You may be of a religious persuasion that really believes society would be better as a whole if it followed certain spiritual laws or practices. And in a free society, you are free to try to persuade other citizens of the wisdom of that belief. But think about it. The same legal and governmental system that prevents you from imposing on others those beliefs and practices (even if, as you see it, it’s “for their own good”) also prevents other religions from imposing their differing beliefs and practices — which may be distasteful to you — upon you. This is especially beneficial to you if you are a minority in the country; a majority of citizens from another religion cannot impose their beliefs and practices upon you. You are protected.
If the government and the law maintains a strictly secular relationship to all its citizens, none can impose their beliefs on any of the others. As soon as a government favours one religion above others, all citizens of any other religion, or no religion at all, are in jeopardy. This is no longer democracy.
When this is applied to issues like marriage, it means that NO GOVERNMENT IS IN THE BUSINESS OF “SANCTIFYING” ANYTHING in a person’s life. Whatever religious interpretation a private individual may give her or his marriage, and no matter what his or her church, temple, mosque, synagogue, meeting house, etc. might think of the relationship, the state plays no part in that. The state’s purpose where marriage is involved is purely secular: granting legal status and certain responsibilities to a committed, familial partnership between two people, and determining how this legal status will play out in legal terms in society. Period.
People are mixing the two — state and religion — and this is an absolute mistake in a democratic society. The roots of our marriage laws may originally have come from a particular religion, but a democratic state today does not privilege citizens from one religion over other citizens from other religions. The very fact that civil marriages, performed outside of a religious context, have for decades had the exact same legal status as any marriage performed in a religious establishment shows that the legal status does not depend on the religion (or lack of religion). The religious status of a marriage and the legal status of a marriage are TWO SEPARATE THINGS.
The government is not a church. Period.
People from all religions who wail about gay marriage “destroying the sanctity of marriage” are, in fact, not wailing about the gay marriages at all. What they’re really doing is whining that their country isn’t a one-religion country ruled by their version of god, imposing their spiritual vision on everyone else, whether everyone else believes in their god or not.
If they want to “sanctify” their own marriages, they can marry in a church or a temple or a synagogue or a mosque or a starship, or whatever. They can live in what they perceive as a “sanctified” manner within their own marriage. But it is, frankly, none of their business what anyone else’s marriage is about.
At least, not in a democratic society, it isn’t. If they want a non-democratic society, well, there are plenty of those elsewhere in the world, and they should move to those spiritual paradises as soon as possible. Or if they are reluctant to move to those “spiritual paradises” precisely because they want the freedom and democracy of the country they live in now — then they should live by democratic principles, not just applied to themselves but to every citizen.
[**My very deep thanks to the late Michael Mele, for teaching me the things in this post, way back in 1999**]
Arguments against equal marriage: #3 Marriage partners should be “complements” like Men and Women