I’m posting this on behalf of Guest Blogger, Rob Harris.
*This entry is written with reference to English and UK establishments and practices. They are not the same throughout the entire world.
How often have you heard the phrase, “Marriage is between ONE man and ONE woman”? How about, “God created Adam & Eve, not Adam & Steve”? I’ll wager it’s more than a few times. And how many times have you felt real anger at having to respond to these rather asinine statements?
At the crux of your discussions is the word ‘marriage’. You aren’t arguing over how the ceremony is performed, how many people get invited to the wedding, or how many of your partner’s family like salmon canapés; you are talking solely about the act of binding two people together in a legal contract for the rest of their lives, or until the contract is no longer required. Religious zealots have a problem with this, but we’ll come to that later. For now, it’s important that we define the word ‘marriage’.
My dictionary says:
- The formal union of a man and a woman, typically recognised by law, by which they become husband and wife.
- A similar long-term relationship between partners of the same sex.
Let’s look at that definition; it states that marriage is ‘typically recognised by law’. This is the act of the state granting a ‘marriage certificate’ to the two people involved. This is not a religious ceremony. If you are a Christian, a Hindu, a Jew, a Muslim, or a person of any other religious belief or non-belief you are required to get a marriage certificate before the state will recognise that you are married, and subsequently grant you the rights and privileges of being a married person in the eyes of the law.
Churches, mosques, synagogues etc. do not, and indeed can not, grant two people those rights and privileges, as they do not control the state and have no ability to set law.
What this means, essentially, is that the ceremony you perform is a religious one, but the actual legal recognition of your marriage is granted by the state. You can perform a ceremony in a church, but until you have the marriage certificate you are not legally married. Indeed, many marriage certificates are granted hours or days to either side of the religious ceremony.
You do not actually have to perform a religious ceremony, which is borne out by the many non-religious people who get married every year. You merely need to visit a Registry Office and undertake the appropriate procedure.
So, what does this mean for your Christian zealot friends? Well, it means that their hold on the term ‘marriage’ is tangible at best. If the Christian Church ‘owned’ marriage, Jews and Muslims would have to get permission from the local Christian church before they could be married. Clearly, this does not happen; the Registry Office is a secular institution that grants marriage certificates to any and all people of any religion or non-religion.
Thus, it is not the duty of Christianity solely to say who can and cannot be married. It is up to the state.
This now brings us onto the question of how the state grants marriage certificates. A recent example is that of Proposition 8 in California, USA. This changed the California Constitution to add a new section (7.5) to Article I, which reads: "Only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California." (Source: Wikipedia).
By effectively redefining ‘marriage’ to specifically exclude anything but heterosexuals means that the state is discriminating against non-heterosexuals. However, since this was a democratic decision the result must stand until it can be changed through the democratic process again. [What sickens me, personally, about this is that the majority have been able to remove the rights of a minority based on some very flimsy beliefs and ideas of how “gay marriage will destroy families”, to quote one person interviewed on a local news channel.]
The state is now not able to grant marriage certificates to non-heterosexuals. Note that this was a democratic process and not a religious decision (though the proponents of Prop 8 were clearly religiously-motivated). Thus, religion has nothing to do with granting marriage certificates.
It is also useful to note that this wording effectively bans polygamy, so any Muslim men out there with aspirations of having up to four wives - as allowed by Islamic law - are right out of luck.
A further point to be made here is that there have been many news stories about churches refusing to hold same-sex ceremonies in their buildings. They are absolutely entitled to this - after all, those buildings are theirs - unless they are maintained through public money. In this case, the decision to hold such a ceremony is largely up to the individuals in charge of that building as they are using funds from the public, some of whom are not heterosexual but have an equal claim on the use of the buildings.
Given that religion is impotent of the ability to legally define who can and cannot be married, and it is clearly up to the state to make such decisions, religion is relegated to the ceremonies performed for that religion. If your religion requires that you be married in a church, then you perform a marriage ceremony in a church. If it does not, you do not get married in a church. This is simple, but religion wishes to grab both sides of the situation and assume the right to grant legal status to whomever it chooses.
Some of the more banal reasons that religious zealots wax lyrical about include the ridiculous canard that same-sex marriage will destroy the family unit. It is interesting to note that such zealots do not actually define how this would happen.
- Would homosexual married couples go around converting heterosexuals to homosexuality?
- Would they petition government to stop heterosexuals from marrying?
- Would they make outrageous demands that favour themselves over heterosexuals?
No, clearly not. And, as far as I am aware, same-sex couples want equal rights, not extra rights. So, why would the joining of two people in love who want to commit themselves to each other be such a problem for marriage? Remember, marriage is not a religious affair; it is a legal status.
A favourite retort of mine comes when a religious zealot states that homosexuality is unnatural. I take great pleasure in pointing out that nylon is unnatural, as are hospitals, cars, air conditioning and money. Oh, and In-vitro Fertilisation (IVF), which allows infertile couples to have children. Books are also unnatural, so that Bible of theirs is skating on very thin ice...
Another asinine reason they like to churn out is that if we grant marriage rights to same-sex couples, what’s to stop us from marrying animals or allowing paedophiles to marry children? With the former, I am unaware of any animal other than human beings who can give their informed consent, let alone sign their name on a marriage certificate. The latter needs no real explanation of its absurdity other than to point out that paedophilia is a recognised mental illness, and such a coupling would undoubtedly harm the child, as indeed it does given the number of claims against the Catholic Church for compensation for having been molested by their priest. We don’t allow people diagnosed with recognised mental illnesses to fly commercial planes, do we?
On the issue of raising children in a homosexual marriage, where is the evidence that the children are adversely affected by it? Nowhere; but the religious folk will have you believe these kids are scarred for life. There may be some bullying at school when the question of mother and father arises, but this is short-lived. Any child who suffers bullying at the hands of other children is not at fault - the other children are. For these people to not recognise this, astounds me.
And yes, I know that a homosexual couple cannot bear children, but neither can infertile heterosexual couples. Is the sole reason for not allowing two people to marry simply a question of their potential to procreate? Clearly not, or we would ban infertile couples from marrying, and have no need for IVF.
A child brought up to understand that homosexuality is just as natural as heterosexuality (though less common) would surely be more accepting? If you’re brought up to believe that homosexuality is ‘wrong’ (in some god’s eyes) then you’ll have these bigoted views for the rest of your life. Being moulded from a young age into hating ~2-6% of the world’s population simply because of something they do in the privacy of their bedrooms is just plain stupid. If that affects their entire world view so much, I would suggest they have worse problems to deal with.
Religious zealots speak many words but say very little. They are mute on the actual reasons why they are against allowing two people in love to marry. They fail to back up their points with real facts.
They rely on a 2,000-year old book and someone who claims they have a seat right next to ‘God’ to give them guidance. Funny how they aren’t demanding slaves, as allowed in their book. And when did a Christian man last stone to death his new bride on her father’s doorstep because she wasn’t a virgin? They pick and choose the bits that they want to follow, and ignore the bits that they do not. It is a shame that they are so vehemently against progressing humankind and accepting the natural vista of human sexuality.
What a world we wish to live in, and what a world we are forced to live in. Religious people profess love, but they are so much better at stifling it.
By Rob Harris, 12th June 2009.