Last week, the Maryland House voted to “shelve” until next year any debate or action regarding legalizing same-sex marriage. Of course, the church (mostly Catholic), the Black Democrats, and the Conservatives hailed this as a of victory for the sanctity of marriage. The strong reason given for the law’s “defeat” was that marriage is “sacred.”
What does ‘sacred’ mean?
According the etymological history of the term, sacred refers to making something holy or having been made holy: set apart, dedicated, bound, ordained; decree or enact — all with a strong sense of religious moral conviction. Typically, sacred things are untouchable in the sense that they are, in themselves, immutable. They cannot change because, in changing, they are not the same thing that was so holy or special.
Confusion of the Sacreds
Many of the people who are against same-sex marriage are viewing the institution from their religious perspective. Nothing wrong with that … unless it attempts to supersede the Constitution, a secular & legal document which guarantees freedom to those religious perspectives.
An example of a religious perspective superseding the constitution: Granting same-sex marriage “turns a moral wrong into a civil right,” as the rationale for misconstruing the civil institution of marriage and denying a right to tax-paying U.S., bone fide citizens.
The ‘sacred’ (“moral”) notion here is definitely one of religious beliefs; and asserting the religious sacredness is an assertion of religious freedom. Some of our laws, as guaranteed by the Constitution, exist to protect these religious beliefs — and protect the rest of us from being ruled by them.
And the confusion begins.
Laws are purposefully secular. We are a nation of laws established and governed by the Constitution, which had a strong motivation to keep religion and government separate. Laws are government; laws are civil matters. And the institution of marriage from a governmental standpoint is a civil matter, not religious. People have the right to vote their consciences, doesn’t matter from what source they flow. The seed of confusion starts when people confuse protecting their religious beliefs and enacting (civil) laws to impose their perspective on everyone.
It’s easy to see how that can happen. We have a supreme law that says the government must stay out of our religious lives. For many people, marriage is a religious thing, ordained and “created” by God himself. The divine origin of its holiness. Protecting their view of marriage — an institution we all depend on in this society in some way — is the same as protecting their religious freedom. Secularizing the concept to its simple civil import without the religious character is sacrilege to them because it invites non-believers or other-believers to partake without sharing the same ideology of holiness.
In most people’s mind, when they imagine a marriage, they imagine it taking place in a church. But for the state to supposedly recognize it, you have to have a LICENSE to go along with the civil portion. Then you are granted all the CIVIL privileges and benefits to form and sustain a household. The “state’s interest” in the matter is fostering mutual reliance and interdependence, rather than dependence on the state.
It also forms a contract, not only with each other, but with the rest of society! The state and the people have expectations of you to which you agree by entering into a state- and society-recognized union.
As such a contract, marriage is an atomic building block of society. There are very few institutions as “sacred” as marriage, whether civil or religious. The religious ‘sacredness’ and the societal ‘sacredness’, however, are not the same, although the perceived values of marriage overlap in consequence.
Citizens are free — thanks to the Constitution — to regard marriage according to their religious & personal perspectives as they will, placing all kinds of restrictions on what their particular religion will recognize as valid and holy; but according to the Constitution, laws (civil matters) are applied equally. Period.
Sacredness of Sacred
From the civil/legal standpoint, there is no authority higher than the Constitution (because of its purpose and the tenets contained therein). It is sacred for all kinds of reasons, and is the holy of holies when it comes to what the US of A is as a Democracy. If the Constitution says that we are all equal under the law, and the laws pertaining to marriage are not being applied equally, then something is wrong … and it ain’t with the Constitution.
The Constitution and its protections and guarantees can only be changed by more than an act of Congress — it’s an act by the people over many many years of state-by-state deliberation. This is one way in which ‘sacred’ means nearly untouchable and immutable. And the ‘sacredness’ in marriage as a societal institution, when we remove the religiosity, can only refer to elevated reverence and station within our societal framework.
Juxtaposed next to what establishes the US as a Democracy to be envied and copied around the world is the atomic building block of all societies: marriage. Marriage, tho, as a societal building block, need not have religion as a component to exist in fulfilling what marriage does within any society.
The institution, to be regulated by law, has to have secular justifications (even ones retrofit from religious beginnings) for it to allow for the huge diversity the U.S. contains. The laws must be, to be universal and applicable to all, utterly neutral when it comes to morality that is inextricable from religion. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…” <See the Comment (below) marked “NOTE”>
So when a majority rules (with a law) to withhold equal treatment of our laws to groups of other citizens, it has to have a reason that excepts the rule from the Equal Protection clause of the Constitution. Such rules, to become law, require “heightened scrutiny.” But here, not only are we talking about a fundamental societal building block with one of the highest elevations in importance and station, but we’re also talking about the fundamental building block of what makes the U.S. the U.S.: fairness and liberty for all, free of religious oppression.
In fact, it’s from the faked notion of “elevated station” that proponents of Prop 8 of California are arguing for opposite-sex marriage: majority disapprobation, regardless of individual reasons for opposing same-sex marriage or preserving opposite-sex marriage. (I say “faked,” because the proponents are trying to sanitize out the religious and bigoted reasons for the law so that it will be Constitutionally palatable.)
In arguing for same-sex marriage, no one is arguing that marriage isn’t sacred (elevated in its importance). It absolutely is for a variety of reasons. In fact, it’s because of this sacredness that the excluded citizens want to participate (which also, ironically, is doing more to “protect the institution of marriage” than the opposite-sex couples are doing with their 52%+ divorce rate, marriages of convenience, forced marriages, non-procreative sexual practices, swinging, etc.).
Is it the nature of things that are sacred to remain preserved forever the same,
Is there some form of super-strong reverence that inoculates it from corruption of its essential nature or purpose but allows gradual change on the surface?
The concept of marriage per se is not an enduring institution and a solid building block because of religious tradition. And nothing in allowing same-sex couples to enjoy marriage as an institution does anything to erode what forming a household for mutual interdependence and raising children (natural, adopted, or a combination of the two) in a stable, loving environment means.
The reasons given for decreeing that marriage be only between people of the opposite sex are up for debate; and we can rationally and respectfully consider allowing same-sex marriage because the outer crust of what we view as marriage has, indeed, changed throughout time. ‘Sacred’ when applied to marriage does not mean untouchable or unchangeable because, not only does it not mean the same thing to all people across the globe, but even within our own society — the one the Maryland legislators are operating within — the concept and its practice have changed.
Protect Me from Evil
A law that is established in accord with any religious principle is a theocratic law, or a law where (someone’s god) reigns. (theos: god; kratos: rule, regime, strength, government by → by 1825, coming to mean “priestly or religious body wielding political and civil power.”) If laws (and their enforcement) are the substance of government and if laws founded in religious principles are theocratic, then the more theocratic types of laws we have, the more of a theocracy we have. And to hell with the Constitution.
To suggest that how marriage operates in our society can’t change or that we can’t apply the civil legalities of marriage equally to all citizens of this country because it is ‘sacred’ is 1) wrong, 2) contradictorially ass-backwards. Something else is directing the protectionism of marriage, something from which the Constitution protects us all: theocracy.