The states and the courts define marriage as a contract between two spouses which traditionally have been different genders. This civil contract includes certain rights and obligations as defined by each state or jurisdiction and is recognized by the federal government for various purposes. Recent court rulings have stressed the importance of providing equal treatment under the law regardless of the genders of the spouses involved.
This week, the United States Supreme Court refused to consider several challenges to this practice, thus leaving the issue in legal limbo. Same-gender marriages are currently recognized in some states, but not others.
Marriage has also been defined, sanctioned, and practiced, by many of the world’s religions, including Judeo-Christian faiths. Many religions object to marriages between individuals of the same gender, others do not. Some religions sanction and practice polygamous relationships as well, although this is not common in the United States and not legally recognized or even allowed by any of the states under existing statutes.
When two people plan to marry, they must obtain a license issued by a county under authority granted by a state. This is required of all legally recognized marriages. Whether a couple wants to have their marriage sanctioned through their own religious affiliation is optional. The state does not have authority over anyone’s religion, just as the religion does not have any jurisdiction over the state.
We find ourselves in the midst of not one, but two arguments:
- Should two people of the same gender be allowed to marry under the law?
- Should religions be allowed to limit marriages to those that conform to their beliefs?
I cannot predict the outcome of the first argument as it is a question before the courts. Whatever the outcome of these legal proceedings, the word “marriage” will likely apply to the recognized relationship leaving us forever burdened with hyphenated marriages.
The second argument has an obvious answer, and that is yes! Under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution, laws restricting the free-exercise of religion are considered unconstitutional. In our country, a religion may decide whether they wish to conduct, recognize, sanction, or bless a ceremony or a marriage.
So, the legally recognized relationship shall be called a marriage, but a religion can call it whatever they decide, including marriage, holy matrimony, blessed union, spiritual bond, etc. Followers of different religious faiths may be married by law and also by their religion, as is now the case. They must be legally married, but they might also have their relationship, made holy, blessed, spiritually united, or sanctioned under some other title. They should not feel the word “marriage” has been hijacked. The definition of the legal relationship may change, but the religious manifestation of the word would not necessarily change, unless the governing bodies of the religions agreed.
With this understanding, we can focus the debate to the first argument, who can get legally married, which is definitely not about semantics. I personally feel it would be helpful if the issue were settled consistently for all the states and jurisdictions within our country.