Sunday, January 4, 2009

Marriage, Church and State

"Today in 1893 U.S. President Benjamin Harrison declared full amnesty for Mormon polygamists. Is it the government's place to define which marriages are valid and which are not?" ~ Writer's Block Prompt

"The right to marry whoever one wishes is an elementary human right compared to which "the right to attend an integrated school, the right to sit where one pleases on a bus, the right to go into any hotel or recreation area or place of amusement, regardless of one's skin or color or race" are minor indeed. Even political rights, like the right to vote, and nearly all other rights enumerated in the Constitution, are secondary to the inalienable human rights to "life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness" proclaimed in the Declaration of Independence; and to this category the right to home and marriage unquestionably belongs."
~Hannah Arendt [Dissent, Winter 1959]

For legal reasons, it is the government's place to define which marriages are valid and which are not. A marriage is a legal contract between two consenting adults. The legal contract affords rights that are specific to married couples. But for most, the meaning of marriage is far more than a piece of paper signed by the couple, their witnesses and the officiant. Marriage is about love, commitment, and for many people, religious faith.

I only care that the government recognize my marriage for the legal benefits. My husband and I file joint taxes. As his spouse, I am added to my husband's medical insurance. As his wife, I am the beneficiary of his life insurance. If we have a child, we begin with the same equal rights to that child. Just because I gave birth to the child, I do not have any more legal rights to the child than my husband does. He doesn't have to prove he's the father or separately adopt the child. The child is automatically "ours." If my husband is in the hospital, which he has been once since we've been married, all I have to do is say, "I'm his wife" and I can visit him. I'm not asked for proof that I'm his wife. The words, "I'm his wife" come with power. The words, "I'm his girlfriend" or "I'm his life partner" or "I'm his domestic partner" do not have the same authority. The legal contract of a marriage gives me power. It gives our relationship validity and special rights under the law.

As important as the legal rights a marriage affords to me are, that is not why I got married. I married my husband because not only do I love him and feel he has the qualities I seek in a partner, but because I wanted to spend the rest of my life with him as his wife. I wanted to live by the teachings of our Christian faith that explain what a marriage should be.

I wanted to put God first in our marriage, always.

I don't believe a couple need get married in a church or by a religious leader for their marriage to have God at the center or to have a religious marriage. God would be just as important in my marriage if I had gotten married in the woods, by a former teacher, just as my best friend and her husband did. Still, I chose to get married in a church.

My husband and I had both always dreamed of getting married in a beautiful church, so we payed through the nose to get married in Pioneer Congregation Church, the very first Christian church built in Sacramento. I had a very religious ceremony. There were prayers, scripture readings and even a blessing.
I was able to get married in a church because I was having a traditional heterosexual wedding. Before we could marry at Pioneer, we had to complete pre-marital counseling, which we were happy to do. The pastor, Reverend Jim Truesdale, warned us from the beginning that if he did not feel we should be getting married, he would refund our money and we would not be married in his church. We were fine with that. We understood that to get married in a church, especially one that we did not attend, we had to follow the church's rules and protocol for a wedding ceremony.

If we were a homosexual couple, I believe the church would have had every right to deny us a wedding in their church. Knowing the "open and affirming" beliefs of the church, I don't think a homosexual couple would be turned away from this more liberal church, but all the same, I believe the church would have the right to do so. A church should have the right to turn away any couple, whether heterosexual or homosexual, if the church feels the couple is in conflict with church's beliefs.

That's why I think there should be two forms of marriage. I believe everyone who wants to be married should have to go through the legal process of signing a contract recognized by the government. I do not believe the government has any right to discriminate based upon sexual orientation. Two consenting homosexual adults should have the same rights under the law as two heterosexual adults.

I believe the religious ceremony and marriage should be separate from the legal marriage. Churches should be able to discriminate freely based upon the beliefs of their faith. The marriage document issued by the church should be separate from the legal document issues by the government. If a couple has a religious wedding ceremony, whether it's Christian, Jewish, or Muslim, isn't their God then the final authority over that couple's union? How can the government recognize that which belongs to religious faith?

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
~U.S. Constitution - Amendment 1

Happy marriages

begin when we marry the ones we love,
and they blossom when we love the ones we marry.

~ Tom Mullen

For two people in a marriage to live together day after day is unquestionably the one miracle the Vatican has overlooked.
~Bill Cosby

*Photography by Avessa Studios

1 comment:

  1. That was beautifully written, friend. I agree 100%, thank you for saying the words I haven't been able to get to come out right. =D