Wednesday, November 08, 2006

Why Did We Vote on This?

Wednesday Morning Quarterbacking about Marriage

I've got to hand it to Arizona. They had the common sense to say no. Wisconsin may be the first state to adopt a constitutional amendment concerning the definition of marriage, with less than 60% voting in favor. That distinction pales by comparison. We are seeing the first hopeful signs that sanity may yet return to this hysterical debate. Two older women passengers on the Milwaukee paratransit system gave the best spontaneous insights into the insidious amendment proposal:

"If God said it, we don't get to vote on it. So why are we voting on it?"

"This is too confusing. There has to be some purpose they're not telling us about."

One transparent purpose they didn't openly mention in Wisconsin failed to come true. The amendment was not the wedge for a Republican sweep of the elections. Voters split their tickets in all kinds of ways, with great sophistication. One congressional district even tipped to the Democrats. A fair number of people who voted "Yes" seem to have voted AS IF the referendum were a simple question: "Is marriage the union of one man and one woman?" That would have gotten about a 70% yes vote. It is not what the legislature presented to the people for ratification.

Still, it is odd that those who claim to know what God ordained wanted us to vote on it!. One might have expected those who claim marriage can mean anything we want it to mean to push for a vote. It is strange that so many pastors and churches thought it worthy of their attention. There has never been a time when any political body was so anxious to pass a constitutional amendment to provide that things are going to stay the way they are now. Nor has there been a time when opposition was so aroused on the ground that if the amendment is voted down, nothing will change. For its stated purpose, it would have been hard to write a more twisted and uncertain set of sentences. There would have been no harm in sending the whole thing back to the drawing board until the authors could get it right.

But the most dangerous thing about the rash of state constitutional amendments on this subject is that it takes the courts off the hook. Paranoia about "activist judges" inspires many to nail the absurd debate about marriage into an airtight coffin, without bothering to drive a stake through the heart of the controversy. Yes, the famous ruling by the Supreme Court of Massachusetts was ridiculous. But no court, no state attorney general, nobody from Liberty Counsel or American Center for Law and Justice, has come close to dissecting what the court's error really was. Instead of doing the hard work of clearing the air, everyone is looking for airtight compartments to seal off the real questions that remain unresolved.

It is a general and accepted practice in drafting legislation, and in legal reasoning, to begin by defining the terms of the controversy. There is no case on record where any judicial opinion began by defining the term "marriage." Advocates of expanding the definition have cleverly made the definition the end result of their argument, rather than addressing it at the beginning.

If any judge began by looking the word up in a standard Webster's dictionary, or in Black's Law Dictionary, every available definition would focus on male and female. On that basis, a court could examine with some clarity whether any individual man or woman has been denied equal protection of the laws. The answer would be, no. No male, and no female, has been denied equal access to the status of marriage. The fatuous claim that homosexuals are a "class" of persons who are "excluded" from a deliberately undefined status, vaguely referenced as "marriage," would fall flat on its face. Homosexuals are not a class at all. Marriage laws take no notice of such a condition – unlike skin color, race, nationality, religion, etc. Throughout history, thousands of "homosexuals" have been married in the traditional sense – to individuals of the opposite gender.

Some individuals simply do not desire to enter into the historically constituted partnership known as marriage. They desire to enter into other partnerships. So be it. Those partnerships are what they are. However loving, they are not marriage. And, as anyone looking at it from a Judeo-Christian tradition would recognize, they do not reunite the Adam. They do not bring together the two parts into which the image of God was divided. (Courts in the United States cannot make rulings about the image of God. It is outside their jurisdiction. Spiritual matters are protected by the First Amendment from the profane hand of the civil magistrate.)

This needs to be presented to the courts, stripped of the obfuscation wrapped around most arguments submitted so far. The courts need to clean up the controversy. It needs to be settled, not walled off behind hasty constitutional amendments. Good arguments and bad arguments need to be laid out, examined, publicly displayed, and thoroughly recognized for what they are. No short cuts. So far, the best arguments have not even been submitted to a court of competent jurisdiction.

Once we settle that marriage is marriage, and nothing else, there is no reason we cannot provide by law for individuals to make and register their own choices for hospital visitation rights, joint ownership of property, shared obligations for children. There is no reason for the government to take any notice of the motives. There is no reason the community as a whole must formally acknowledge or celebrate individual choices that deviate from the norm for the human race, any more than we need to persecute such deviations. It simply isn't a marriage.If the Metropolitan Baptist Church wants to celebrate such partnerships as a marriage, they have a right to do so. The Southern Baptist Convention is under no obligation to do likewise. That is called free exercise of religion.


St. Michael the Archangel said...

I have a problem with your argument, your saying just because Metro Baptist Church wants to allow homo-sexuals to marry in their church that other baptist churches do not need to feel they need to do the same thing, correct?

See this is a prime example of Protestantism, if you don't agree with one person or church then you go to another or start your own. How about Christ, how about being united with Christ and the way that he views homosexuality. If all the thousands of different denominations were united to Christ then there would be NO homosexuals unions and people probably wouldn't even be thinking about voting on such a topic. But since there are so many splits and "free Thinkers" today and in religion, then we run into the problem.

Siarlys Jenkins said...

This sounds like the beginning of a fascinating conversation. How about being united with Christ? Yes, that is an excellent vision. Christ said that "all the law and the prophets" hang on two commandments: love God with all your heart, mind and soul, and, love your neighbor as yourself. If we stopped right there, then there would be no profusion of denominations. Unfortunately, politics entered into the Body of Christ at a very early stage. I was amused by the attention paid to the "Gospel of Judas" because it meant so very little, EXCEPT that around 200 AD, there were people who called themselves Christian who actually believed it. It is an example which reveals that for the first 300 years, Christianity was a bubbling ferment of gospels and syncretisms and myths and, of course, somewhere in there, the true Gospel of Jesus Christ. Orthodoxy emerged from the reign of Constantine, dripping with as much syncretism as Gospel. I have a problem with human authority which claims to speak FOR Christ, and tells us that the way to be united with Christ is to unite under said human authority. I don't really care whether the authority is the Bishop of Rome or the latest pseudo-Protestant televangelist con artist, although I do recognize plenty of difference between the two. The problem is with false unity through a fallible human authority.

The fundamental basis of the clauses on religion in the First Amendment of our federal constitution is not that all religions are equally good or equally true. The premise is that government is incompetent to make the determination as to which is true, why, and how much. Therefore, we are free, in terms of the civil law, to pursue our own conscience. God, of course, will judge as God sees fit, but the judge of the circuit court will not.

I once met a group of Jehovah's Witnesses on the street, and talked about a few perspectives I appreciated in their materials, but that on the whole I did not embrace what they teach. One of them asked "Do you read the Bible?" Certainly I replied, but EVERY denomination bases its doctrine on reading the Bible. If so many people can read the same Bible and come to very different conclusions, how can we KNOW which one is true? The Holy Spirit may indeed impart understanding to us -- but I cannot judge what the Holy Spirit imparts to you, nor vice versa.

Even before the Protestant Reformation, Christianity had split into Roman and Greek churches, not to mention such heresies as the Pelagian and Nestorian, the separate organization of Christians in the Persian empire, etc. Most Protestant churches began by claiming that they alone are the true faith, while all other Protestants, much less Catholics, are apostate. The secular arm of the law cannot enforce conscience. Both Roman Catholics and various Protestants have gone through periods of burning witches or heretics at the stake, John Calvin no less than the Popes. It does not, in the end, promote unity with Christ.

I believe that the union of one man and one woman reunites the image of God. I do not believe that a homosexual union does that. I have no desire to see the state issue "marriage licenses" to same-sex couples. In an objective mathematical sense, they are deviant from the norm of the human race. I see no need to persecute them, but I will not celebrate their union either. I do not subscribe to the teachings of the Metropolitan Baptist Church. For very different reasons, I do not subscribe to the teachings of the Southern Baptist Church, or the American or General Baptist churches. I appreciate that if I do not agree with the teachings of a given church, I can go to another more suited to me. If we all had to agree on one set of doctrine, I would have to change the doctrine of the church to suit myself, but that might dissatisfy you. Better we can each worship God as we see fit, and let God judge, not our neighbor. We didn't agree when we were all in one church, we disagreed more clandestinely, or more violently.

I don't actually know of one occasion when Christ said anything about homosexuality. Perhaps he just considered the teachings of the Torah so well established and well known that he had no need to say anything. Or perhaps, he didn't really care. Paul talked about it occasionally, but Jesus apparently did not. I don't much care. I have no idea what would make a man attractive -- I sometimes wonder why women put up with us. If the Metropolitan Baptist Church chooses to "bless" same-sex unions, that is their business, and, they are accountable to God for it. I don't have to agree with them, nor do I have to judge them.

SolShine7 said...

I was living in Boston when they made that decision and it wasn't a pretty sight. I was doing a story on it for a class assignment.