ROSE NOLEN: Gay marriage is a matter of civil rights

Tuesday, May 22, 2012 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

I have attended church since I was a child. As an adult, I have worked for the judicatories of several major protestant denominations. However, I was a middle-aged adult before I learned that there were African-American Christian churches that were opposed to homosexuals. It was never a part of my experience that African-American churches were opposed to any groups of people.

I believe that all beings are sacred in the eyes of God, but whether one is conservative in one's beliefs is not the question. The question in this case is not whether one believes that certain individuals have the right to marry or not, but that one understands the separation of church and state. This has always been a problem for many Americans. While most agree to it verbally, they have a hard time accepting it in their hearts.

Frankly, I don’t think that the people are entirely to blame for this. There would have been no need to remove prayers from school, if the powers-that-be had been clear in their defense of the Constitution and not allowed prayers in schools in the first place. The same is true in every example where a violation was permitted.

We can’t keep getting things mixed up. We do not excuse people from paying taxes because of their sexual preferences. So, as taxpaying citizens, they are entitled to every right and privilege as any other taxpaying citizen. As far as I’m concerned, it's a matter of civil rights.

As far as marriage itself is concerned, many people do in fact consider it a religious ceremony. If the people are religious, then I see no reason why it should not be. People, of course, have the right to say who may be married in their church and religious leaders have the right to say who can be married by their pastors or priests.

I’m far more concerned about individuals hating other people and causing them physical harm than I am about people loving other people. It seems to me that we should be finding ways to dissuade people from violent behavior. Nowadays, people seem to turn on members of their families as easily as they turn on strangers. It seems like hardly a week goes by without us hearing about some grisly crime committed by someone against a member of his or her family.

For a long time, people were primarily concerned about single people living together outside of matrimony. Now they are concerned about people of the same sex who want to get married. When they get everyone settled in the roles they want them to play, perhaps they can start working on people getting divorced.

At this point, I really feel lucky that I have only my own problems to worry about. At the present time, Harry Houdini seems to relish in his bachelorhood. So far no one is objecting to neutering for cats.

I’ll quit while I’m ahead.

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Kevin Gamble May 22, 2012 | 9:17 a.m.

Thank you for these thoughtful words, Ms. Nolen. I think you have said everything that needs to be said on the matter. So many people rail against the imagined specter of nebulous doom arising from people loving one another, yet don't expend any energy working on the very real and present problems that are caused by hatred and misunderstanding. I think we're learning, but painfully slowly.

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Sandra Hayes May 22, 2012 | 10:45 a.m.

I was thinking the other day that since the church created marriage I dont understand why the state gets involved at all. It is a religious ceremony and the church should maintain control of it not the government. So why do we have to get a marriage license from the state, was that just a way to create revenue. The state should get out of the marriage biz, I shouldnt have to get a marriage license from them nor should a judge be able to marry people. If you are atheist or agnostic why would you want something in your life created by the church. I dont buy the argument that because you cant get married your civil rights are being violated, I believe most states have passed many laws dealing with civil unions (for gay couples) that keep them covered legally. The only thing an actual marriage provides is a path to an actual divorce.

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Jonathan Hopfenblatt May 22, 2012 | 11:01 a.m.

The church did not create marriage.

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Michael Williams May 22, 2012 | 12:41 p.m.

Sandra: The state gets involved because society has decided there are legal obligations in a marriage....things like parental responsibilities, heritability, decisions on behalf of the other(s), and the like.

I know little about the history of marriage, but I suspect marriage is simply a societal effort at "orderliness"....a declaration of on-going responsibility that publicly obligates individuals to one another...however many there are...and reduces societal obligations to the married individuals since the latter promise to take care of themselves.

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Jonathan Hopfenblatt May 22, 2012 | 1:44 p.m.

No one's sure when/where/how marriage started.

-Lineage has been important to us for ages, so like the article says, it's possible it started out simply because men wanted to guarantee their children were theirs.

-Similarly, we're pretty jealous creatures. Most of us aren't comfortable sharing/swapping partners, and it's possible someone came up with the idea of marriage as a contract of fidelity of sorts.

-In many societies it was basically a business transaction. If you wanted to gain land and riches, you married your kids to someone else's kids, and then their land became yours and vice versa. Marriage in those cases was more of a union between families rather than simply man and woman.

Speculation abounds, but either way, the origins of marriage probably have nothing to do with religion, and certainly not the western religions that often claim ownership of the ritual.

Finally, it doesn't really matter. To the extent that the government provides benefits to heterosexual couples, it's flat-out discrimination to deny the same benefits to homosexual couples.

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Michael Williams May 22, 2012 | 2:21 p.m.

"...the origins of marriage probably have nothing to do with religion"

From a strictly academic POV, you're probably right. We'll never know simply because we weren't there and independent verification/evidence does not exist that far back.

I will say, tho, that we have ample indications that ancient societies were religious in some fashion (funerary art and grave goods, cave paintings, etc.), and it's easy for me to imagine religion being made a "holy" part of the blessing of a union.

Maybe what we need is agreement on the definition of two meaning "I was joined with religious AND legal oversight and blessing" and the other meaning "I was joined for legal purposes only." Future legalities can only use the latter term, not the former. For example, "civil union" could be the only allowed term for LEGAL union of consenting parties, with all of it's legal obligations intact, while the word "marriage" could never be used in a legal sense (even though "marriage" is automatically a civil union).

That satisfies separation of church and state issues; not every joined party is married, but all have civil unions. I'm happy with that.

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Gregg Bush May 22, 2012 | 3:08 p.m.

A "compromise" from
A majority member:
"Separate but Equal".

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John Schultz May 22, 2012 | 3:34 p.m.

Sandra, my recollection on the state licensing marriage is that it (and firearms licensing) came about after the Civil War to keep those uppity black folks from marrying fine upstanding white people.

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Jonathan Hopfenblatt May 22, 2012 | 6:13 p.m.

Michael: I'm all about the government getting out of the marriage business altogether. Just hand civil unions to everyone and let each couple decide if they want to get married in a church.

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Michael Williams May 22, 2012 | 10:05 p.m.

Jon: I could live with that, but why do you limit it only to couples?

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Jonathan Hopfenblatt May 23, 2012 | 2:14 a.m.

If you're going to segue into the usual polygamy argument, I'm fine with that too. I'm sure that someone could figure out how to work out the benefits such that they're equivalent to those of the average couple.

Whatever floats their boat so long as everyone involved is a consenting adult.

(Report Comment)
Ray Shapiro May 23, 2012 | 11:53 a.m.

Both government and religious organizations can get out of the "marriage business."
I'd leave it to the lawyers and caterers to draw up contracts.

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