Before you read, you should know that I will not be making any statements about my personal beliefs on this topic in this post. I do not intend to support either side of the issue. Furthermore, this article will not deal with the morality of homosexuality itself—only the political issue of homosexual marriage will be addressed. I figure if you want someone’s opinion on the subject, you can read the thousands of other articles that have been written over the past decade.
Why am I writing a public article about a divisive issue without championing a side? I like to understand why people believe what they believe. I like to get to the primary beliefs that cause us to hold other deeply-held opinions—the bedrock beliefs, the ethical anchors, the unchanging truths we base everything else upon. In this post I will present what I believe to be the primary cause for the divisiveness surrounding the issue of the legalization of homosexual marriage.
In my opinion, the core of the issue is the very nature of the agreement being made when two people choose to marry. All of the arguments I’ve heard in support of or against the legalization of homosexual marriage have pre-supposed an answer to this question: Is it a religious covenant or a legal right granted by a government? Those who oppose homosexual marriage have assumed that marriage is primarily religious while those who support homosexual marriage believe that it is a legal contract overseen by a government.
The reason these two differing opinions exist is probably the way our government was founded. The western idea of marriage was, originally, a religious institution. Since it was the common religion when the United States was founded, the origins of our nation’s marriage system are defined largely by the traditional Christian views of marriage. The Constitution was written with a decidedly Christian slant and the original laws of our country were blatantly religious. It is not a stretch to say that our founding fathers had no concept of an entirely secular governing body void of any religious concepts.
In the minds of the original Americans, there was no distinction between political legality and religious morality; therefore, the right to control marriage was given to the government. That is why, although a deeply held tradition, two people who desire to be married do not need a church or an ordained minister. They simply need to visit a courthouse, obtain a proper license from a government official, and then swear to their commitment with legal witnesses.
And the line gets even more muddled. Despite the supposed separation of church and government, every state allows any ordained minister to legally officiate a marriage as the government’s official representative, but judges or marriage commissioners may head up the proceedings as well. It is easy to see why some believe it to be religious while others believe it to be governmental. The two have been intentionally intertwined.
Obviously, this is not intended to be an all-encompassing statement. There are, I’m sure, many who will not be able to identify with my premise, but I will say that all of the arguments I’ve heard for or against the legalization of homosexual marriage follow one of these general patterns: