In the past week there as been a major Federal court decision which declared Proposition 8 unconstitutional. Proposition 8 was passed last year by a statewide vote which disallowed gay marriage in California.
The proposition states:
Proposition 8 (or the California Marriage Protection Act) was a ballot proposition and constitutional amendment passed in the November 2008, state elections. The measure added a new provision,Section 7.5 of the Declaration of Rights, to the California Constitution, which provides that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.” – Wikipedia
This has been chewed over in the media for some time and without delving into the details I would just like to add a unique opinion which has not been discussed but I find quite relevant. As my passions are history, linguistics and international living I simply would like an answer to the following question.
What is marriage?
Most people will not give this a passing thought and believe the question silly as the answer should be obvious. But I ask, is it really obvious? If one is to engage in this societal contract, under which authority makes the union valid?
Is marriage something the state confers upon the couple or is it religion?
Or perhaps it is a promise we make to ourselves and our partner? How much weight should we give to “authorities” and under what authority do they derive their own authority? Do they really even matter?
The easiest answers concerning our current “authorities” are perhaps the State and organized religion.
1. The State
The state confers benefits upon married people in terms of taxes, contracts and so on. Therefore, when we marry it is beneficial to register with the state to receive these benefits and work within the system.
However, should we decide later on to leave the state (the country) for another country then any decision by the state would be rendered unless the country which we have moved to also recognizes decisions made by the country we have just left. That is to say foreign countries do not necessarily recognize contracts (marriage contract) made in other countries.
Most couples will register with the State as they have no choice or they are not really married as far as the State is concerned. But then we could ask ourselves what is a ‘law’ and who gives them the authority to determine whether we choose to be married or not? The laws are arbitrary and I would guess that they had some sort of influence from organized religion.
As time passes the law can be changed and here in the USA we are a secular nation (with some caveats), and religion should really retain no influence. Instead, it should be a consensus among the elites or possibly the entire population as to what constitutes a law. Many people today believe that “the will of the people” is what makes laws but that is not really true. Congress makes the laws and is often persuaded by lobbying organizations.
Also, as we can see from history, the opinion of the masses is not a very good way in which to craft laws. If this were the case, interracial marriages would still be banned and society would most likely just have the law of the state follow the mandates of an organized religion.
Since we are creating our own laws, made by consensus among elites and possibly with a dash of public opinion these laws really derive from no higher authority. The laws are simply made up and may or may not reflect public opinion.
To give additional and possibly final authority to any proclamation from the state many leaders have turned to religion and God. We still swear on bibles in the court room and the words “Under God” are still maintained on our currency and in our national pledge. Therefore, it acts as a very strong “supplement” to laws made by the State which adds an additional layer of authority. In common-speak it says “If you are not willing to respect laws made by man, then you should respect those laws made by God and God gives the State direct authority to make his laws.”
However, as we are now more of an enlightened society we continue to be in the process of stripping religion from our laws and believe they should be followed on their own merits.
In terms of marriage, most people will not consider this issue and just sign the paper to register with the state while also participating in an organized religious ceremony to add another (if not more important) level to confirm their union.
Again, the USA is a nation that has separated Church and State although a good portion of the citizens fail to recognize or even consider this. It is to them as though the State and their religion should go hand in hand. As a very good majority of citizens in the USA are Christians, religion may still play a role in making laws even today. This is what happened with Proposition 8 and the following Bible verse was used to make a law against homosexual unions.
1 Corinthians 6:9-10 – “Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes norhomosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God.”
Now, there are some counterpoints such as the translation being wrong and that the Bible is not really condemning homosexuality. This is not a point I will discuss here.
My point is that homosexual couples are not asking organized religion to bless their unions. They are instead simply asking the state to recognize the union as they know they do not have a “snowball’s chance in hell” to have it recognized by Catholicism but have made progress with the Anglicans and I’m not really sure about the others.
The current debate however is not about religious acceptance but simply that of the State.
If the State has separated from religion then religion should play no role in whether or not gay couples are allowed to marry.
But even if we believe religion should still play a role in marriage, it might be beneficial to ask on whose authority is religion able to “make a marriage?” Most people would quickly say “God,” but is there evidence in scripture of this? At what point in time did the priestly class insert themselves into the important occasions of our lives? Why is it that priests must be present at an individuals birth, marriage and death? This question has also been asked in “The Antichrist” by Friedrich Nietzsche.
“Simply this: the priest had formulated, once and for all time and with the strictest meticulousness, what tithes were to be paid to him, from the largest to the smallest (–not forgetting the most appetizing cuts of meat, for the priest is a great consumer of beefsteaks); in brief, he let it be known just what he wanted, what “the will of God” was…. From this time forward things were so arranged that the priest became indispensable everywhere; at all the great natural events of life, at birth, at marriage, in sickness, at death, not to say at the “sacrifice” (that is, at meal-times), the holy parasite put in his appearance, and proceeded to denaturize it–in his own phrase, to “sanctify” it. . .”
If we throw away the authority of the state (after all, they only last about 500 years or so) then all we have to rely on is religion in that they have an outstanding reputation for longevity. Yet, if we are to examine religion, it would be beneficial to ask ourselves at what point did the priests interject themselves and gain control of the most important events of our lives?
Are there Biblical references that state a priest must be present at these events? Do priests have some magical powers to really solidify a union? I would say no.
But I return to my previous point that homosexuals are not asking for the blessing of organized religion but only that of the state and to be treated fairly and equally under the law of the state.
3. The word marriage
This word is simply that, a word. It could be called anything but in the English language we have settled on the word marriage to describe this social custom. The problem arises that we are very unsure as how to define it. Does it mean a union recognized by the state or by religion? Can we call it something else like “domestic partnerships?” I’ve understood that gay couples are afforded the same legal rights under “domestic partnerships” so in terms of the State does it really matter what we call this “union?”
I would say it does if you call one union “marriage” but reserve another title only for gay couples. This would not be equality and akin to the “separate but equal” issue that was struck down in the past. Would straight couples be able to obtain “domestic partnerships” or would that seem weird?
As I said above, if a married couple were to leave the state for a foreign country and do not recognize any organized religions that do not allow their type of union then under what supreme authority could the union therefore be recognized?
The state maintains no authority outside its own borders and religion retains no authority unless the individual allows it to do so.
So I ask again, “What is Marriage?” I would say that it is a promise we make to ourselves and our partner that we will stay by them and support them until we die. This is the most important aspect of a marriage, a promise we make to ourselves. Whether the State or religion choose to accept this union should play a seriously less significant role.
Concerning marriage and homosexuality there has been a very large shift into how people view homosexuals. The younger generation most likely happens to know a few and realize that it is just the way they were created and is not “evil” as religion would have us believe. Therefore, there is absolutely no reason why they should be denied the same benefits as straight couples by the State. The laws of the State are a reflection of the ideas and reasonings that the elites of the population created, or shall we say simply made up in order to have a properly functioning society.
Again, religion is and has been stripped away due to the separation of church and state and therefore should retain no more influence.
And as our laws are a reflection of “the will of the people” and the people are slowly coming to realize that gay people are not “evil” and that they have been unjustly discriminated against would it not follow that the law should change as well?
I believe those for Prop 8 (against gay marriage) are fighting a losing battle. The younger generation realizes this mistake and the laws will slowly come to reflect this and give homosexuals equal treatment.
Unfortunately, old habits die hard and the extremist elements in organized religion are trying to maintain their grasp on the lives of citizens everywhere. They wish the state to craft laws to reflect their values and what they have been taught in their religious books.
I ask if this were to be the case, should we go back to stoning women for adultery and throw out all scientific progress simply because a religious book tells us to?
It is time for religion to stop interfering with the laws of this nation and for the USA to give equal treatment to all of its citizens. Even if we have a very hard time letting go of religion, perhaps we could use the commandment “Love they neighbor,” a bit more and have a little less of the hate.
*Side Note: Reasons for my view
You may ask how I even came up with these ideas? Well, it is due to my international experience, especially in Japan. If a foreign national marries a Japanese outside of Japan things become a little complicated.
a.) The State
Japan does not automatically recognize marriages outside of Japan. Instead, the Japanese individual must submit paperwork to the Japanese Embassy to make this “official.” And to add one more complex element the Japanese individual has the option to change their “koseki” (戸籍) which means “Family Registration.”
A koseki (戸籍?) is a Japanese family registry. Japanese law requires all Japanese households (ie) to report births, acknowledgements of paternity, adoptions, disruptions of adoptions, deaths, marriages and divorces of Japanese citizens to their local authority, which compiles such records encompassing all Japanese citizens within their jurisdiction. Marriages, adoptions and acknowledgements of paternity become legally effective only when such events are recorded in the koseki. Births and deaths became legally effective as they happen, but such events must be filed by family members.
Most Japanese will register with the Embassy but not change their koseki as it can be a real pain and more trouble than it is worth. It is due to this that I question the authority of the State and if their decisions even really matter in terms of citizens considering themselves “married” or not.
Most Japanese are Buddhists. As people in the USA are overwhelmingly Christian would the couple have to go get married in both traditions to have it be valid in terms of religion? Or could we just dispense with the religious aspect?
For these reasons I started thinking about how much authority the state and religion have in creating a marriage. Why is it that they should have a lock on this important event? What if we really give no weight to their “authority” and simply decide to think of marriage as a promise we make to ourselves?
Just food for thought.