With the recent departure of Jim West from the world of biblioblogdom (I add my name to the list of those who regret this), there is a noted silence on the topic of gay marriage. Were he still blogging, no doubt he would have lauded the New Jersey Senate for recently voting down a bill that would legalize gay marriage in the state. This was certainly one of the positions that made Jim a most controversial figure. While reading through the article, I was struck by a comment made by Republican Bill Baroni who supported the bill.
“We should not be telling one couple you can be married and another couple you can be civil unionized,” Baroni said. “We are better than that. History is watching us now. She is asking us whether we’ll side with equality and right — or for discrimination.”
Is it accurate to use the term discrimination in the way Baroni has? I contend that it is. On what basis would the government deny a homosexual couple a marriage certificate and the state-sponsored privileges it brings? Marriage in the Judeo-Christian tradition functions, among other things, as a means for moral/spiritual formation. There are indeed many people who believe that there are moral/spiritual problems with homosexuality. The fact that voters keep voting down gay marriage is a simple testimony to this. However, the government rarely refuses people with perceived moral or spiritual maladies the right to marry.
If the government truly does believe marriage should function to promote moral/spiritual formation, they have a funny way of showing it. Consider what New York State Senator Diane Savino has to say regarding the degree of commitment and the amount of preparation the government expects of heterosexual couples before they are allowed to marry (HT: James McGrath). No doubt there are numerous committed homosexual couples who would shame many heterosexual couples today because of the longevity and their relationship and the exclusivity of their sexual union. The government doesn’t refuse marriage to repeat adulterers or to those who frivolously divorce because they cannot honor the life-long commitment typically associated with marriage.
I think it is obvious that, for government, marriage has little to do with those things with which it is associated in the Judeo-Christian tradition. Why then should it refuse homosexuals the matrimonial privileges completely divorced from the moral/spiritual sphere of life? In part, I agree with Baroni. This is discrimination. The government is showing preference to those with a perceived moral/spiritual well-being. However, I would not suggest, as Baroni does, that the government should play a role in determining the legitimacy of the homosexual lifestyle as it pertains to morality/spirituality. This is not, I believe, its role in society.
Of course, the idea of the separation of church and state is not an uncontested one. But I suspect that those who defend the government in their present victories over gay marriage will not be so happy when, at some point in the future, the government decides to dictate morality or spirituality in ways inconsistent with their own views of such things. (This is not, I might add, aimed at Jim West. I do not recall whether he supported the government’s right to deny state sponsored matrimonial privileges to gay couples.) Insofar as homosexuality is perceived to be a moral/spiritual malady, it should be faith institutions, not governments, that regulate marriage.
Of course, this is no new position. An increasing number of people believe that the government should remove itself from the sphere of marriage altogether. The government should indiscriminately grant civil unions, and leave the regulation of marriage to churches, synagogues, and the like–those institutions responsible for helping to facilitate moral and spiritual formation.