by Ann Ivins
I’ve been thinking with increasing irritation about that perennial conundrum-within-an-enigma-which-actually-isn’t-that-difficult-at-all: the separation of church and state, this time in the context of gay marriage. The issue becomes more annoying the more headspace I give it, and it’s not the prejudice or the public protests or the proclamations of any group on either side. The question that makes my brain twitch is this: why is this even an issue?
I firmly believe that the followers of any given religion have the perfect right to include, exclude and/or vilify anyone they choose. I further believe that their right to express their group disapproval stops absolutely short of causing their chosen bugaboo any actual harm… as in, breaking the laws enacted by the larger secular state in order to protect all its citizens. Those laws, we hope, evolve in specificity and efficacy as our understanding of what constitutes demonstrable societal or individual harm evolves as well. The American legal system has always possessed the power to control, modify or ban religious practices on these grounds: for example, in direct contradiction of Biblical precedent and many current religious beliefs, women are no longer owned by their husbands, twelve-year-old girls are off limits and public stoning for adultery has been replaced by Facebook flaming.
Another example: the general population, excluding certain Louisiana JOP’s, has eventually come to understand that a union between two people of differing overall skin pigmentation does not lead to apocalyptic plagues or children with multiple heads (also, that allowing humans to own other humans is a damaging economic construct, not to mention leading to some rather hard feelings in general). Had the original Southern Baptist Conference (and by “original,” I mean the SBC from 1845 until 1995) been able to retain a state-sanctioned grasp on the laws of the Southern states, slavery would still be legal, “miscegenation” would still be a crime and hundreds of thousands of lawn jockeys would still be on proud display across the land of Dixie. The Southern Baptist Conference was created to support these ideas: in defiance of the views of other Baptist congregations, but with the full support of Messieurs Leviticus and Nehemiah, to name only two. The Old Testament is all for concubines, slaves and massacres, but not intermarriage among tribes. Is this our best authority on human relations?
And what about the endless variations on marriage sanctioned by religions just as legitimate as Decent Christians Everywhere Inc? Why aren’t we respecting their traditions? Why are we letting widows remarry, those whores (Hinduism)? Why aren’t we letting Islamic American men who can afford it collect the four wives to whom they’re entitled? Who’s in charge here? The Founding Fathers, those whacked-out Deists, should have left us some instructions about which religion is right so we would know whose tenets to make law… oh. Wait. They did mention it. NONE OF THEM.
In a democratically-based society, the general idea is that we don’t let small groups dictate to everyone, in the belief that time, evolving understanding and the collective better judgment of a larger group of citizens usually works out better for everyone. When small groups, or large groups, or individual states or Bible-beating rednecks do attempt to tar and feather someone, we can take their asses to courts which represent successively larger segments of the population and hope that somewhere along the line, better judgment and better education will prevail.
I don’t give a damn what happens in anyone’s church if the law isn’t being broken, if children aren’t being abused, if the Kool-Aid is untainted. And if a particular religious sect decided that I was by nature a lesser human being, I think I’d leave. Wait, make that I know I’d leave – that’s essentially why I don’t consider organized religion a tool that’s safe for most people to play with. Any system of thought which approves and allows the dehumanization of certain other humans is risky stuff.
No religion owns marriage: the concept, the reality or the word itself. Religions have their own variations on the theme and every right to them. Marry (or don’t) anyone that you like (or hate (or sadly but firmly condemn)). Your religious definition, Ms. Christian or Mr. Sikh (and you do NOT want to go to the dictionary on this), is yours to live by. But please try to understand: pair-bonding predates religion; stable, wealth-creating, ably-parenting households are the true and demonstrable societal benefit of such bonds; and there’s not one iota of real evidence that a pair of the same gender doesn’t work just as well… and your talking shrubbery or flaming cow, while inspirational and possibly entirely real, is no excuse for ignoring science, history and simple justice.