Saturday, September 01, 2007

Church, State and Gay Marriage

September 1, 2007, 7:00 a.m.

Church, State and Gay Marriage

Three editorials this morning offer a similar approach to Judge Hanson's 63-page ruling holding Iowa's prohibition on gay marriage
("only a marriage between a male and a female is valid") to be unconstitutional.

They are analogous in a way to the bumper sticker's advice: "Opposed to abortion? Don't have one." In this context I guess it would be, "Opposed to gays marrying? Don't marry one."

(It's not that simple, of course. With the exceptions of self-defense, insanity, and manslaughter, among others, there are both laws and widespread general agreement that frown on "murder." So we're left with "when, if ever, prior to the moment of birth, should the decision to abort a fetus be equated with the deliberate killing of a fully born human being for purposes of inclusion within the criminal law definition of 'murder'?" Obviously, this has been a matter of considerable disagreement.)

The similarity between the controversies surrounding abortion and gay marriage, however, is that both have utilized arguments that tend to conflate (1) one's personal, religious, moral, ethical, philosophical and public policy beliefs and practices, with (2) the desirability and propriety of the state, the government, imposing one's standards as a matter of criminal or civil law on everyone (
or groups of citizens taking matters into their own hands).

I happen to think that urban transportation by bicycle makes a lot of sense. It strengthens your body, awakens your mind, improves your health, reduces disease -- with significant savings in our $2 trillion, profit-maximizing health insurance system. It is environmentally friendly, reduces greenhouse gases, reduces our disproportionate use of petroleum -- and need for the other (ultimately, with externalities) $2 trillion total cost: the Iraq war that was apparently necessary to get our oil out from under their sand. It requires less expense (or could if more did it) of road building and repair. It's cheaper, usually faster, and saves looking (and paying) for parking.

But I'd agree the bumper sticker (if there were room for it on a bike) ought to read: "Favor bicycle transportation? Get a bike and ride it."

In other words, I would not advocate criminal penalties for driving automobiles in urban areas; additional license fees maybe (as reduced London's congestion), but not compulsory bicycle riding.

The distinction between one's personal preferences and imposing them on everyone else is a distinction too often overlooked in everything from casual conversation to newspaper editorials.

That's why I was pleased to see this morning's editorial efforts in the Register and Gazette.

The Gazette draws the distinction between church and state from the start of the editorial:

A Polk County district judge’s ruling Thursday that Iowa’s law banning same-sex marriage is unconstitutional sets the stage for a resolution of this issue . . .. [T]his debate needs to be settled regardless of whether any consensus is ever reached in the moral and religious arenas.
It continues:

Whether same-sex marriage is right or wrong morally is a matter of faith or personal belief. However, civil marriage, whether between opposite- sex or same-sex partners, is not the legal business of religion.

That task belongs to governments that preserve both the freedom of religion and the rights of those who disagree with others’ beliefs.

Governments need to define legal unions between two people because tax issues, insurance and other benefits and many other public policies rely on definitions of various relationships.

. . .

Beyond legal circles, churches and their members and families continue to struggle with the samesex marriage issue and likely will do so for years to come.

In the meantime, Iowa can make sure its laws don’t place unfair restrictions on people’s civil freedoms, including same-sex marriage.
The paper couldn't have made the issue -- the distinction between church and state -- much clearer.
Editorial, "Let Court Settle Marriage Debate," The Gazette, September 1, 2007, p. A4.

The Register gets to the Gazette's mountaintop by a different trail. Rather than have the government grant gays the rights to "marriage," have it grant all couples -- gay and straight -- equivalent "civil union" rights, and then leave the "marriage" business to churches:

To truly assure equal treatment, the government should get out of the "marriage" business altogether and grant civil unions to everyone, gay or straight.

That would allow the law to focus on the legal benefits to which all couples are entitled in a democracy that espouses equality for all people - and allow religious institutions to set their own rules for marriage.
Editorial, "Extending Civil Rights is Part of a Great American Tradition," Des Moines Register, September 1, 2007. See also, Jeff Eckhoff and Abby Simons, "Briefly, two men can say 'I do,'" Des Moines Register, September 1, 2007, and Editorial, "Polk ruling correct: Law unconstitutional; Gay-marriage ban violates rights," Des Moines Register, September 1, 2007.

Once in a while (quite often actually) the editorial writers get it right. And so it was (in my opinion) this morning.

Individuals, religious organizations and their spokespersons and leaders should be free to offer such rejoinder as they're able to another bumper sticker -- "Hatred is not a family value" -- citing such teachings of Jesus (and others) as they find persuasive in their opposition to gay marriage.

Legislating their hatred is not an appropriate role for government. Protecting their First Amendment rights to talk about it is.

Just as is protecting gays' constitutional rights to equal protection of the law with straights when it comes to marriage -- or universal civil unions.

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2 comments:

Anonymous said...

The differences in Church and State regarding Civil Unions and Gay Mariage certainly is clarified in this article FromDC2Iowa.
Civillywedd.com was formed with this very concept in mind, separate the two conflicting entities (Church and State)and create equal rights for the marrying kind, whoever they are.

John Neff said...

A judge can only rule a law unconstitutional if the legislature and governor screw up first.

The first step is for the legislature to pass a law that is unconstitutional. They have a legislative service bureau to help them avoid doing that but they often ignore their advice or they amend the original draft in such a way as to make it unconstitutional.

The second step is for the governor to sign a law that is unconstitutional and they have staff that are supposed to help them avoid doing that.

How come we never ask the bozos in the legislature and the governors office why they screwed up?