I’ve had a few people ask me, and a few more people email me, with regard to what I think about Proposition 8 in California. This is something that people want to know about me because I am:
It appears with all of the hoopla surrounding Proposition 8 in California, a few people are wondering whether one or the other of my identity labels is in trouble. (Because, with everything happening in the world right now, that’s rather important.) Well, my feelings on Proposition 8 actually run to the side of how ridiculous I think it is that the whole thing has to be an issue at all. Mainly because it has to do with the separation of church and state.
Yes, yes, I know that the Constitution does not explicitly provide for such a separation. The First Amendment merely (among other things) prohibits Congress from establishing a national religion and restricting the exercise of religion. But two rather important framers, Thomas Jefferson and James Madison, made it very clear that they thought that a wall should exist, and that the Establishment Clause did that. The whole issue of the state defining marriage is one that is fraught with concerns regarding religion and state, which, unfortunately, have not been able to remain adequately separated for much of our history.
Civil unions for everyone
I think Proposition 8 shouldn’t even have to be an issue. The fact that it is says more about our common practices regarding marriage the business transaction and marriage the religious issue. In my mind, the state shouldn’t be involved in marriage — whether performing it or defining it. Instead, the state should be performing civil unions. A civil union is, in my opinion, a business transaction. The state should perform them for people who want certain legal protections that right now are automatically assumed with what we accept as marriage.
Marriage, I think, should be a matter for religions. Religions can define it how they want, and marry whomever meets their specific requirements without fear of reprisals or tax exempt statuses. So if a liberal branch of the Episcopalian church wants to define marriage one way, and Pentecostals want to define it another, that works out. Because just as there are different definitions of what a baptism, a confirmation or a Eucharist should be (and who should participate in these rites), there is room for different religious definitions of marriage.
But for the marriage to have legal force, it would have to be backed by a civil union. Which should be a completely separate transaction presided over the state for the purpose of benefits (taxes and health) and next of kin and other legal protections and statuses. That means that, if we were operating under a civil union type law, after my temple marriage as a member of the LDS faith, my husband and I would have had to go to a state official and had a civil union performed if we wanted the legal benefits.
If we made the move to separate the spiritual from the political in the way we look at marriage, by adding a civil union requirement, there would be no need to “protect” the current “definition” of marriage, and religions would have nothing to fear legally from refusing to perform marriages for anyone who doesn’t meet the requirements set forth by the organization.