Friday, May 4, 2012

Marriage, Freedom and Liberty

There is a heated debate going on in North Carolina now about a proposed amendment to the North Carolina Constitution on the May 8 ballot that would ban all gay marriages and civil unions in the state.

The question behind all of the campaigning and arguing seems to boil down to these salient points: 'Is 'marriage' a religious word that deserves to protected by the civil government? Or is it a word and concept that is so ensconced in American life now that it 'just is what it is' and that is all there is to it?'

One wag with whom we correspond frequently sent this acute observation in last week:
'You're missing the point with the linguistic part of the word, 'marriage'.
There is a reason why the state got into the what-was-previously-the-religious business of 'marriage' in the first place.
The state got into the marriage business to both control and reward certain behaviors.   Before marriage laws, it was not uncommon for close relatives to wed and frequently they produced offspring that demanded a great deal of community support because they were 'not normal'.
So, the state came along and defined the degrees of relationship that may 'legally' marry.'

See?  Long-time readers had to know that there would just have to be a budget component to even this societal issue. 'Community support' means welfare paid for by taxpayers, make no mistake about it. 

This guy is from eastern Arkansas. He worked as a county clerk who issued licenses to 'normal' couples' and denied them to perhaps a few each month to those who were 'not'.

So he should know what he is talking about, right?

No matter what side of the debate you are on or fall on when you go to vote on May 8, the issue of a 'marriage protection' constitutional amendment does brings to mind the fundamental question of 'church and state' doesn't it?

Is this a matter of 'the state protecting a specific religious practice' or is it a case of a specific religion 'imposing its beliefs on the rest of society' through the legitimate legislative and constitutional process set up by the North Carolina state constitution?

If 'marriage' is inherently a religious word for a sacred vow and ceremony in the eyes of God taken in a church in front of an authorized religious figure such as a priest or preacher, where is the line between the two when the state, as in the state of North Carolina civil government, is in charge of deciding who is eligible to get a valid 'marriage' license in the first place as our Arkansan friend said?

One of the questions has to do with what would a {insert new word} be called outside of 'marriage' which has always been defined as between two religious heterosexual people.

What will we call the {insert new word} when an atheistic heterosexual couple who have no intention of ever exchanging religious vows in a church or ever living together under any Judeo-Christian, Hindu or Muslim pretext of spirituality whatsoever get {insert new word}?

Will they be considered 'married' under the new amendment if they get {insert new word} in the Justice of the Peace office in Mayberry? Why should they be considered 'married' in the religious sense of the word if they have zero intention of honoring or following any religious practice ever at all?

It won't be called a 'civil union'. The amendment makes that very clear.

We have typically chosen to bring to the fore a lot of information on a wide range of issue and let you make your own decisions as citizens. There is a lot going on in this campaign that we thought we would bring to the front of your brain so you can cogitate on it some today.

First, here is an explanation written by Charlotte attorney and widely and well-respected authority on North Carolina Constitutional law, Russell Robinson who is against The Marriage Protection Amendment. Russell is a 'big brain' when it comes to constitutional issues in North Carolina. Go into any law office in North Carolina and you will see rows of his books on the shelves. 

Here is a detailed explanation from Lynn Buzzard et. al. from the Campbell University School of Law which doesn't endorse The Marriage Protection Amendment per se but certainly lays out the reasons why it should be passed.

Both are well-written, researched and well-argued, pretty much in a civil discourse way as it should be.

(Congratulations on being 'civil'! It used to be 'expected'. Nowadays, it is such as 'surprise' that we feel we should give both Mr. Robinson and Professor Buzzard a Nobel Peace Prize for Peace!)

We suggest you read both of these carefully and come to your own conclusions about how to vote on this amendment on May 8 if you live in the state of North Carolina.

We have been assiduously asking and re-asking and re-re-asking people on both sides of the debate about the details and 'unintended consequences and ramifications' of this amendment should it pass.

You know there are going to be some. There always are.

Here are some things we think we are hearing from advocates of the Marriage Protection Amendment: 

1) This amendment will not disallow anyone from entering into legal contracts to live together and share assets in North Carolina. Gay couples will still be able to do so if the amendment passes even the advocates of the amendment say.

2) This amendment will make non-heterosexual, non-Christian couples 'jump through 3 extra hoops' to do so such as sign joint powers of attorney, living wills and other legal documents before the {insert new word} is recognized by the state of North Carolina as being 'legal' and 'enforceable'.

So, in essence, the question really isn't about whether two gay people can live together and share assets in the state of North Carolina in the event of one partner dying and leaving his/her assets to the survivor. Even the proponents of the amendment admit as much.

It comes down to a pure and simple question of whether a gay couple can use the word 'marriage' and be recognized legally as a couple in North Carolina.

Isn't that a religious issue that needs to be settled in every church and denomination across the state and nation?

Let's think on this for a moment or two.

'Marriage' is a term derived from the New Testament Greek word 'gameo' which literally means to 'bind' or 'unite'. Koine Greek had the advantage of being able to be differentiate words into about 40 different meanings based on context, time, condition and tense unlike English which is limited in many ways from being as nuanced.

When viewed in strictly legal or contract terms, it means one thing: a legal agreement to stay together and share all assets and legal privileges.

When used in context of making solemn vows in a church ceremony, viewed in the eyes of Holy God, however, the word 'marriage' takes on an entirely different, far more serious and committed connotation. 'Til Death Do You Part', 'So Help Me God!' and all that.

The Judeo-Christian heritage is special for many reasons but especially for this one that not too many people fully appreciate: It was about 3000 years ago that the Hebrews adopted the concept of monogamy through religious ceremonies where a man married one woman instead of having a harem of women serving as multiple concubines to the King or any wealthy man.

Women, for the first time in recorded history, were able to directly inherit wealth and assets from their husbands upon death. The Bible even instructed surviving brothers to marry the widow if not married themselves.

Think about that for a moment if you want to bring some more Biblical concepts into civil law.

You can read all about it in Thomas Cahill's very excellent book, 'The Gifts of the Jews: How a Tribe of Desert Nomads Changed the Way Everyone Thinks and Feels' 

Which brings us to the Founders, once again.

Did they found this nation to be a theocracy, one where one faith dominated all others?

Nope. Plain and simple, they clearly stated that everyone should have the freedom of religion in the First Amendment in the Bill of Rights. They were protecting the rights of the lowly Baptists and Methodists in the 18th century from the dominance of the higher Episcopalians who prevented them from holding office in Virginia and Massachusetts.

Their sentiments were quite evident: No one had the right to tell anyone else what to believe or what not to believe or 'to abridge their freedom to do either'.

Religion is mentioned twice in the US Constitution. 1 as the 'freedom of' clause in the First Amendment. The second is in the 'no religious test' clause of Article VI for anyone to hold public office. That is it. 

There was certainly the sense that faith and religion was essential to the self-governance that free democratic republics required to function effectively. James Madison, who was trained in Presbyterian theology at Princeton when they were putting out Presbyterian ministers by the bushel in the 18th century, said many times that the new republic would not survive unless the people remained predominately religious and Christian in thought, spirit and action.

But, they didn't write it into law or in the Constitution, even though they could have. They recognized from the very beginning that in a free society, the population would be ever-changing, diverse and dynamic and that meant a diversity of religious thought that needed to be tolerated by everyone if we were going to live together in peace and respect for one another.

We believe the single guiding principle of every one of the 55 or so gentlemen who gathered in Philadelphia to grind out this US Constitution at some time during the summer of 1787 could be summed up in 2 words:

Freedom and liberty. Plain and simple.

'For all people', as Thomas Jefferson penned in the Declaration of Independence. Not just the people we agree with or with whom we work, live or go to church with. Everyone who lives in America.

'We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness'.  

And which Abraham Lincoln confirmed in his Gettysburg Address when he said in his opening sentence: '...our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal'. 

So we need to protect the 'religious' significance of marriage while also protecting the rights of every citizen to be 'free' and 'equal' in our civil society.

If a gay couple, has to jump through the '3 extra hoops' mentioned above, why not make every couple sign the same documents at the county courthouse if we are going to be truly 'equal' in the implementation of this new amendment?

And leave the religious significance of the word 'marriage' to reside in the churches and house of worship where it hopefully can be preserved and protected with a lot of work and prayer such that the divorce rate plummets dramatically from the stratospheric heights it has reached in modern America. 

The Founders would be astounded by many things in modern America but doesn't it stand to reason that they would be saddened by the number of divorces this nation experiences each and every year?

Maybe we need to keep talking and debating about how to protect the institution of marriage after this referendum is over and keep thinking about how we can keep marriages intact and not dissolved or in the process of dissolution. Keeping the divorce rate even among Christians down to around the zero level would have magnificent impacts on the numbers of women who wind up living in poverty and the number of children who need welfare support just to bring in one other budget component for the time being.

Maybe there is another word we can start using for the civil ceremony that everyone can and should use in our pluralistic democratic republic.

There is the sacred religious context of marriage and the profane civil context of legal unions that we need to more clearly define it would seem.

Every non-religious or non-heterosexual person enjoys the same right as any other religious and/or heterosexual American citizen, as Jefferson and Lincoln pointed out, to live as freely and as happily as they so choose to do, don't they?

As long as anything anyone does not impinge on the freedom or rights of other people, isn't that what America is at its core in all things?

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