There’s an awful lot of talk about equal marriage being incompatible with religious beliefs. The president has even been speaking with religious leaders to alleviate their (and his) fears. I’m not entirely sure I buy it.
I believe that people have found comfort in defending their stance with their religious convictions. I mean who would argue with someone’s religious convictions or even suggest that religion, by its definition, is a way to exclude people who are not like us? Not I. But does anyone, even the most pious of Americans, believe that legal civil rights have anything to do with religion? I can’t begin to understand how. I’ve heard people claim a fear that their religious institution will be “forced” to perform marriages. How? They are not forced to perform marriages now. I can’t walk into a religious institution with a willing heterosexual accomplice and force clergy to perform a marriage ceremony. Religious institutions, again by their very definition, are allowed to exclude whomever they please. (If you don’t believe me, just try getting married in a conservative synagogue without paperwork verifying your worthiness. Even then it will be up to the discretion of the rabbi whether to cue the chuppah.) So no one is going to be forced to do anything.
Then does just the idea that people are doing something that you believe your religion does not celebrate send a person ’round the bend? Maybe. People are entitled to interpret their religious doctrine anyway they please. Whether I think intolerance has never been the teaching of any religion is immaterial. But ya know what? It turns out that church and state are in fact separate. There are several religions that ban pork from the human diet. Yet the U.S.D.A. gives legitimacy to pork producers, manufacturers and distributors. What would help anyone feeling that the United States government is on the verge of offending his or her religious sensibilities is to cease from seeing marriage as a religious rite, and see it as a civil right and legal construct.
Consider that in many religions the birth of a child is celebrated in a house of worship. Not all babies are welcomed into that house of worship. They must be of proper lineage and deemed worthy. Yet, our government issues all babies birth certificates. Why? Because we have chosen, as a people, to have a government that ensures basic rights and freedoms of every citizen. It all starts with the birth certificate. Having a birth certificate is not a ticket to the alter/bihma it is a ticket to; social security, public education, voting and, with any luck, a marriage license.