Marriage and the State: It’s Time For a Divorce
After a lifetime of fighting debilitating shyness and social anxiety I have found a life that permits me to avoid human contact except on the rare occasions when I initiate it. Modern technology is perfect for people like me. I can be social without actually being social, leaving me to focus on what people are doing or saying without worrying or thinking about myself. Facebook has become a useful tool to keep tabs on memes floating around groups one usually no longer associates with. Since most of my friends are leftists of various stripes I watch as they share posts that are supposed to change the world. Most of the time I let these slide without comment since I understand that they lack a blog like this one to share their political thoughts and so are limited to Facebook posts.
Sometimes I slip.
A very good friend of mine shared a post that read, “Like, if you are a supporter of same-sex marriage. Share if you aren’t afraid to admit it.”
As a libertarian I have been a consistent supporter of the so-called “gay agenda” for decades because I’ve been around gays most of my adult life and I simply don’t see how one can support small government yet demand that it poke it’s bureaucratic head into the bedroom. Honestly I want to see the government completely out of the marriage business, and leave the sacrament up to religions to administer as they see fit.
But is this really necessary?
Changing people’s minds requires more work than sharing political messages among friends on Facebook. If I opposed gay marriage it is highly unlikely a Facebook post would change my mind. In fact, sharing a photo or message does very little because it’s preaching to the choir: how many of one’s friends posting this entreaty really AREN’T supporters of same sex marriage?
On May 8th North Carolina is voting to amend the state constitution to ban civil unions, domestic partnerships and other types of domestic legal unions, specifying marriage as the sole legal union between a man and a woman. I think this is stupid on so many levels that it makes me spit. Not only does it discriminate against gays and lesbians, it discriminates against straight, non-religious people who are committed to each other but view marriage as a religious vow. So instead of sharing the photo, I’m going to drive 15 minutes to the polling station, wait in line for probably another 15-30 minutes, and cast my vote on this one issue AGAINST a stupid law. That’s an hour of my time I’d rather waste doing something else but instead I’m going to vote. Given the opposition to gay marriage in my community where Baptist churches outnumber gas stations and fast food restaurants, there’s a good chance my vote will be only one of a very few opposing the measure.
I am a secularist. It’s a word that’s often misunderstood and abused by the religious minded and those who hate them. A secularist is not anti-religion. He or she is someone who believes there is a line between the sacred and the profane, and on one side there is religion, and the other politics. A secularist cares just as much when a religion is forced by the state to obey a law that undermines its core beliefs, as when a religion attempts to force its beliefs on the state. A secularist believes that both entities have their spheres in modern life, and trouble comes when they rub together.
The First Amendment of the US Constitution states, “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.” This has come to be interpreted as the separation of Church and State put forth by Thomas Jefferson in a letter to the Danbury Baptist Association in 1802 in which Jefferson wrote, “I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their legislature should ‘make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,’ thus building a wall of separation between Church & State.”
Secularists can trace this doctrine back even further, to Jesus Christ’s answer to the Pharisees seeking to entrap him. “Then went the Pharisees, and took counsel how they might entangle him in his talk. And they sent out unto him their disciples with the Herodians, saying, Master, we know that thou art true, and teachest the way of God in truth, neither carest thou for any man: for thou regardest not the person of men. Tell us therefore, What thinkest thou? Is it lawful to give tribute unto Caesar, or not? But Jesus perceived their wickedness, and said, Why tempt ye me, ye hypocrites? Shew me the tribute money. And they brought unto him a penny. And he saith unto them, Whose is this image and superscription? They say unto him, Caesar’s. Then saith he unto them, Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.When they had heard these words, they marvelled, and left him, and went their way.” Matthew 22:15-22. This doctrine was later expanded upon by St. Augustine writing four centuries later noting the differences between an “earthly city” and the “City of God.” Martin Luther took St. Augustine’s ideas even further in his Doctrine of the Two Kingdoms which postulated that God worked his will through secular institutions as well as through divine acts. Luther also promoted secularism in his book “On Secular Authority,” writing that a government could not force spiritual beliefs on someone because such beliefs would be held insincerely and would therefore be invalid in God’s eyes. Luther’s ideas would then be picked up by John Calvin and other Protestant reformers, and later James Madison and Thomas Jefferson in the United States.
Even with a relatively clear and consistent philosophical lineage the United States has struggled with the concept of separation of Church and State almost since its inception. For the first hundred years of the Republic the First Amendment was viewed as applying specifically to the federal government; states were free establish official religions. Massachusetts supported Congregationalism until 1833. States continued supporting religion by enacting Blue Laws, abiding by religious holidays and providing other public concessions to religious groups. The Supreme Court finally began to weigh in on the issue, ruling in Reynolds v. United States (1878) that state laws prohibiting bigamy trumped religious laws (Mormonism in this case) that allowed it. It banned school prayer in public schools in its rulings in Engel v. Vitale (1962) and Abington School District v. Schempp (1963). Since then the Supreme Court has delineated a distinct line between religion and secular society. Nevertheless that line continues to be defined by lawsuits challenging the legality of public religious displays and the wearing of religious head coverings on the job, and the rise of gay rights requires further definition.
Marriage has been a component of government since Ancient Greece when Solon wrote a series of laws covering all aspects of daily life including marriage. Since marriage between men and women resulted in children, and children were necessary for the continuation of the State, the State took an early interest in marriage, an interest that continued through the centuries to the present. For most of history, God and the State were one in the same, and the idea of separating the two made little sense. It wasn’t until the modern era that the concept of marriage without the State could be imagined, but even today in states across the country one must acquire a marriage license from the state and have a religious ceremony conducted to make the contract binding. There is no other civil agreement that requires a cleric’s signature.
From a civic standpoint, marriage makes sense. It legitimizes property ownership and distribution. It tames young men and lays the foundation for the means to support children. It pools wealth. Studies continue to show that children from an intact marriage do better in school, and that on average a pair of married people are wealthier than two singles. But these benefits to society will not go away if the state gets out of the marriage business.
America continues to be a country of the religious. According to a Pew 2007 study only 16% of Americans claimed no religious affiliation. Marriage will not disappear. Instead it will fall under the complete control of religious authorities who can marry whomever they wish as they see fit. If a Protestant sect sanctions gay weddings, fine – but Baptists, Catholics and Muslims can forbid such vows without fear of persecution by the state. Separation of church and state cuts both ways, after all, and leaving marriage to the religions creates a barrier to prevent state meddling in religious beliefs.
What about the distribution of property? There’s already a document for that: a will. There are plenty of other existing legal documents that can be used to handle other situations usually covered in a blanket fashion by a marriage certificate like power of attorney and articles of incorporation. These documents can protect a pair (or more) of people regardless of sex, and treats them as equals before the law, something that existing law does not.
Disentangling marriage from the state and undoing 2,500 years of custom will not happen overnight, nor will sharing posts supporting the idea on Facebook change anything. But it is worth considering as the ultimate solution to the gay marriage issue and weakens the war on Christianity that gay marriage supporters unleash in response.
Cross-posted at The Razor.