Marriage Equality – Words Do Matter

I won’t equivocate – I support marriage equality (aka gay marriage).

I actually started this blog post on Monday, but the news caught up to it.

I began it because I was struck by the vice-president’s comments about marriage equality over the weekend and then again by the Secretary of Education’s.  I wondered when the president would formally state that he was for marriage equality and stop evolving.

Of course Tuesday’s North Carolina vote was terrible.  I think a generation or two from now people will look back on the amendment and say, “What were they thinking?”

When President Obama stated that he supported marriage equality I was glad.  His announcement was anti-climatic – a sort of “It’s about time” moment for me.  And, I believe, he wasn’t evolving as much as weighing the cost-benefit of endorsing marriage equality (despite what his critics on the right say, this is a pragmatic president (much to the dismay of his critics on the left)).  Still, it is pretty historic when a president speaks to expand civil rights.

I know that marriage equality remains a stretch for a lot of people.  As for me,  one of the proudest votes I cast was for marriage equality at the 2005  General Synod of the United Church of Christ.  For me, when two people love each other enough to bind themselves to each other for life – noting that love should be treated as a verb and not a noun – marriage is right irrespective of gender.

Marriage is not the same as a civil union.  Sure, all the rights and responsibilities of marriage can be made certain for civil union, but tell a heterosexual couple that their marriage will be henceforth reclassified as a civil union.  I don’t think they’d appreciate it.

I think one of our issues around marriage equality comes because we blur the lines between the sacred covenant of marriage and the civil aspects of marriage.  Unlike some countries where marriages for civil purposes are performed by a government official and a religious marriages are performed by clergy, we don’t separate them.  When I perform a wedding ceremony, I also functioning as a state officer – I have to sign the marriage certificate and file it with the proper authorities.

Actually, performing a wedding is a sort of odd experience.  Despite having done many weddings over the years, I am still really careful when I fill out the Massachusetts form.  Maybe I’m nervous having had a form rejected several years ago because I used blue ink instead of black.  If I’m invited to the reception, I don’t go until I have filled out the paperwork and mailed it to the town clerk.  When I do weddings outside of Massachusetts, I always check with the state where the wedding will be held for its regulations before I formally accept the invitation to perform the service.

I could choose to do only religious marriages, which means I don’t have to do the state’s paperwork, but solemnizing a marriage for the state makes things easier on the couple.

What was at stake in North Carolina, what the president endorsed, was marriage recognized by civil authority.  North Carolina chose not to allow by enshrining the prohibition against gay marriage in its constitution.

But none of the states where gay marriage is permitted are forcing religious institutions to perform gay weddings or even solemnize a gay marriage.  Clergy are under no obligation to perform a gay wedding if they have moral qualms about it.

The issue of making gay marriage legal is the rights and responsibilities that a couple immediately receives upon being married.  All the work to make (or keep) gay marriage legal is to ensure that two people who love each other through the ups and downs of life can have those same rights and responsibilities regardless of gender.  It seems only right and fair.

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About Quentin Chin

Eclectic interests: religion, technology, food, music, current events. I live in the reality-based world.
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3 Responses to Marriage Equality – Words Do Matter

  1. Bob Fox says:

    Thanks for another great post! NC is yet another example of fundamental human rights being crushed under the heel of a misinformed public. I agree that generations from now people will wonder what all the fuss was about. Unfortunately, the conclusion will be that it was all (ok, mostly) about hate hiding behind religion rather than any real desire to protect the institution of marriage (which as an institution has been crumbling for generations on its own). Whether the President’s position was an evolution of conscience or a calculated political move does not matter. What matters is that we are here now. How interesting is it that President makes this bold statement in the same week that Mitt Romney is called out as a high school bully?

  2. Hi Bob, Agreed. Also, I doubt Romney’s sordid past’s appearance was caused by frost heaves. 5 points for Obama’s crew for a well executed play. Hopefully we’ll give them another term and/or do our own drilling and mining to get beyond the state laws and make it a federal law. Another thoughtful article: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/warren-j-blumenfeld/marriage-equality-our-rig_b_1505890.html
    ~P

    • Quentin Chin says:

      Blumenfeld makes a good point, but I don’t know if I’d go so far as to say a law should be passed through the legislative process to make marriage equality legal. Given what can happen in the legislative process combined with the present state of Congress, I worry about a marriage equality law emerging from Congress.

      At the heart of Blumenfeld’s argument, especially citing the Loving vs. Virginia, is reciprocity. Defining marriage has always been left up to the states, which is why marriage laws differ from state to state in very small ways. For instance in some states marriage between first cousins is specifically barred, but in others there is no mention of it. If two first cousins marry where it is not specifically barred and then move to a state where that ban is in place, their marriage is still recognized through reciprocity.

      I favor a court striking down a specific state’s law defining marriage as unconstitutional. Depending upon the ruling the application could be for that specific state or could be broad enough to invalidate other states’ laws. I prefer the latter.

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