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June 29, 4:14PM EST

GAYS DON’T NEED A CHURCH TO GET MARRIED


Public anxiety regarding the concept of gay marriage was recently re-ignited by the passage by New York state legislators of a law legalizing marriage equality for gay individuals.  The last-hour delays were caused essentially by Republican demands for stronger legal protections for religious groups that fear they will be hit with discrimination lawsuits if they refuse to allow their facilities to be used for gay weddings.  The churches of the nation can relax.  The importance of the role of organized religion in the gay marriage debate has been woefully overstated for decades.

The debate over gay marriage arises primarily out of the strange relationship that has traditionally existed between church and state with regard to the institution of marriage.  Marriage, however, is a convention of government, not religion.  Two individuals can be legally married without ever stepping inside a church, temple or synagogue.  Similarly, it doesn’t matter how many aisles the bride walks down, she will not be legally married without a marriage license from the state.  Couples can divorce and legally remarry, no matter how bigamous any church describes the new union.  When it comes to governmental recognition of marriage, church ceremonies and religious edicts are immaterial.  The idea that marriage must only be between a man and a woman is a religious precept, not a government one.  Marriage by any name is about what government permits, not about what God blesses. 

Not all religions, or even all Christian religious sects, refuse to recognize marriage between same-sex couples.  The Unitarian Universalist Association, the Union for Reform Judaism and the United Church of Christ openly bless same-sex partnerships.  Our government cannot arbitrarily invalidate the marriages performed by these religious institutions, while granting recognition to the marriage ceremonies of other faiths.  Such unequal treatment of similar religious rituals would evidence a prohibited government preference for some religious views over others.  Traditionally, our country is committed to the ideal of religious pluralism. Each church, mosque, synagogue or other institution of worship is free to determine the terms and conditions of marriage to be recognized by the other members of its congregation.

We cannot allow our state or federal government, however, to assume the authority to choose which marriages (based upon religious principles) are acceptable and which are not.

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