Gay Marriage: An Appeal to Those Who Oppose on Religious Grounds
So I realize that most people who oppose gay marriage do so because of their religious beliefs. If this is indeed what you believe, I appeal to you to consider this argument.
Imagine that you are living in the United States of America. Currently, in the U.S., the majority of people are Christians. But let’s say that something entirely unexpected happens, and the majority of Americans convert to a religion called Fundamentalist Jibberjabberism.
Now let’s say that although the majority of Americans become Fundamentalist Jibberjabberists, you do not convert. You are a Christian. When the mass conversion happens, you are nervous. However, you remind yourself that the United States is a secular nation governed by a secular Constitution, and that religious minorities like yourself are protected.
Things seem to be going well for awhile. You continue to go to church and to worship just as you always have. Then a disturbing development happens. A week before Thanksgiving, pumpkins become illegal because pumpkins are considered sacrilegious in the Jibberjabberist religion. You can no longer have a traditional Thanksgiving pumpkin pie.
You go to your Congressperson to complain. You explain that you respect the fact that the majority of your fellow Americans do not eat pumpkins. As a religious minority, you expect that it may be difficult to find pumpkins served at restaurants or possibly even at grocery stores. But illegal? “I am not a Jibberjabberist,” you explain. “Pumpkin does not go against my religious beliefs, and in fact, pumpkin pie is an important part of my family’s Thanksgiving dinner tradition.”
Your Congressperson listens attentively, but tells you that this is the law. The majority of people don’t want pumpkins, so pumpkins are illegal.
You feel this is unfair, since this is a secular nation where religious minority views are supposed to be protected, but there doesn’t seem to be anything you can do. So you make a banana cream pie instead. But then, a few months later, a new law is passed. Per the beliefs of Fundamentalist Jibberjabberism, facial hair is now illegal. Men who do not shave may be fined or even imprisoned.
You are madder than you were about the pumpkin pie. You go to your Congressperson and complain. “I am not a Jibberjabberist,” you say. “I respect that many of my fellow American men choose to be clean-shaven. But this is a belief I don’t share, and this is a secular nation. I also believe this is an infringement of freedom of expression.”
Your Congressperson listens attentively, but tells you that this is the law. The majority of people have voted for a ban on facial hair.
This is very hard for you to accept, and things are about to get worse. Months later, you are infuriated when your daughter is sent home from school. Reflecting the beliefs of Fundamentalist Jibberjabberism, there’s a new law called the Defense of Men Act (DOMA). Girls are no longer permitted to get an education. Women are no longer allowed to vote, drive, or talk back to their husbands. On television, activists are applauding the law, which protects the “sanctity of male dominance.”
None of this sounds fair, huh? These aren’t your religious beliefs. Why are they being imposed on you, a citizen of a secular nation — especially when these religious beliefs are being used to take away equality and civil liberties?
Do you see where I’m going with this?
Keep in mind that marriage refers to several things. On the one hand, it is a religious ceremony and institution. But marriage in America is more than that. From a legal perspective, marriage is a civil union between two individuals that allows those individuals hundreds of rights and privileges. These privileges include filing a joint tax return, inheritance rights, Social Security benefits, health care benefits, and hundreds of other things.
Right now, we have a system of inequality in the United States. One group of people, heterosexuals, are allowed to get married, in the civil sense, and gain all of these legal benefits. Another group of people, homosexuals, are denied these rights. This is every bit as unequal as denying other rights — like denying girls an education.
When GLBT groups and allies fight for the right to get married, we are talking about civil marriage rights. Not religious ones. Because there is a separation of church and state in the U.S., religious institutions can refuse to conduct religious ceremonies they don’t approve of. In fact, there are already instances where religious institutions refuse to conduct marriages. For example, my husband and I could not have gotten married at an Orthodox Jewish synagogue, or at some Conservative Jewish synagogues, because I am Jewish and he is not. These synagogues would have had a legal right to turn my husband and I away because they are not institutions of the state, and they can therefore discriminate on religious grounds.
So if gay marriage is something that goes against your religious beliefs, you do not need to belong to a religious institution that conducts gay marriages. You can refuse to attend gay marriage ceremonies if you want. You can make a point to eat at fast food restaurants that oppose gay marriage.
But when it comes to civil marriage, why do you get to decide whether people who do not share you beliefs should be allowed to get married? Why do you get to say that it’s okay to treat certain people unequally before the law? How is this different than telling religious minorities that they can’t eat certain kinds of food, or that their daughters can’t get an education?
I get that many Americans believe that marriage should only be between one man and one woman, and that this is often based on religious beliefs. But those are your religious beliefs, and this is a secular nation. If you would object to having your rights and equality taken away because of someone else’s religious beliefs, then it is not right to deny someone else equality before the law because of your own beliefs.