oberon zell-ravenheart

On Defense of Marriage

By Oberon Zell-Ravenheart
Primate, Church of All Worlds
Feb. 15, 2003

As the seasons of the year begin to turn from Winter to Spring, we come to the ancient Roman fertility festival of Lupercalia, more commonly known in modern Mundania as “Valentine’s Day.” A celebration of romantic love, which can only and ever be a good thing all around, it seems to me.

In 2004, George W. Bush went out on a limb by staking his election campaign on a single issue which he claimed to be of “national importance:” the passage of a 28th Amendment to the Constitution of the United States enshrining a definition of legal marriage as only applicable to heterosexual couples. He and his “religious conservative” supporters, whose stated agenda has long been that of overturning the principle of separation of church and state to establish a fundamentalist Christian theocracy in our country, refer to this proposed Amendment as “Defense of Marriage.”

The implication of that terminology is that somehow “marriage” is being threatened, and needs to be defended. Now, I’ve been married to the same wonderful woman for 34 years, so naturally I take marriage very seriously. Throughout this debate, I’ve been studying everything that’s being said by Bush and his supporters on this issue, trying to understand one core thing: Exactly what is this “threat” to my marriage that I am supposed to be so worried about that I would feel the need for a Constitutional Amendment to “protect” my marriage?

As near as I can make out amid all the acrimonious verbiage, the perceived “threat” is entirely about the right of same-sex couples who love each other deeply to enter into the same commitment of legal marriage that opposite-sex couples have been allowed to do all along. Now, try as I might, I just cannot see how other people getting married can possibly threaten—or even impact in any way—my own marriage.

How could the loving, committed marriages of others be seen as any kind of “threat” to anybody? This is what I just cannot understand.

When I see weddings, my entire thoughts and feelings are a vicarious empathy for the joy and love those people are experiencing, and the hope for them that their wedded partnership will be as long-term and fulfilling as mine has been. It seems to me that the more people find their own beloved soulmates, and settle down into a lifetime of wedded bliss, the happier everyone should be. To feel hostile or resentful over someone else’s happiness just seems to me to be the epitome of spiteful mean-spiritedness, and certainly a far cry from the teachings of the Savior these people claim to follow, whose primary “commandment” was that people should love each other.

And the real irony of all this, of course, is that the vast majority of opponents of “gay marriages” claim Biblical sanction for their views. However, the Bible actually has very little to say on the subject—never affirming heterosexual monogamy as the sole model. Indeed, the marriage structure advocated in the Bible (and in the Koran) is actually polygamy! Solomon, extolled as the greatest and wisest King of Israel, had 200 wives and over 600 concubines! To be consistent, then, religious fundamentalists wishing to invoke Biblical principles should be advocating a return to the “traditional” polygamous marriage, rather than monogamy.

An article in the Sunday, 12/21/03, New York Times, headlined: “Poll: U.S. backs ban on gay marriage,” gave the results of a recent nationwide NY Times/CBS News poll regarding the proposed Constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. 53% say marriage is religious, with 71% of them opposing gay marriage and supporting a Constitutional ban. 33% say marriage is a legal covenant; and of those 55% support gay marriage and oppose a Constitutional ban.

Now, if marriage is truly a religious matter, as 53% of the American public evidently claims, then, according to the First Amendment, the Government (and the Constitution) have no right to legislate it at all! “Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, nor prohibiting the free exercise thereof.” Since 71% of those who consider marriage to be religious want to ban it for same-sex unions, clearly such a ban reflects religious rather than legal/secular concerns, and therefore cannot be legislated Constitutionally, as any such law would clearly be “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

This interpretation is strongly reinforced by the fact that of those who do not consider marriage to be a religious matter, but rather a “legal covenant,” 55% of them actually oppose a legal ban on gay marriages (as do 56% of all those between the voting ages of 18-29). Therefore, there is no legitimate basis for such a Constitutional Amendment—or even State or National laws restricting marriage to “approved” partners. If the race of one’s intended partner cannot legally be determined by the State, how can the gender?

But personally, I think all those pollsters are asking the wrong question, and thereby automatically framing a preconceived response. How about instead, if they asked: “Do you believe the government has the right to tell you who you may or may not marry?” I think that at least 99% of people polled would say, “Hell, no!” And that would be the end of it.

Interestingly, a later Gallup Poll, conducted Feb. 6-8, 2004, indicated that nationwide support for “a Constitutional Amendment that would define marriage as being between a man and a woman, thus barring marriages between gay or lesbian couples” had declined significantly in the month since the previous poll, to an exact split of 47% in favor to 47% opposed, with 6% expressing “no opinion.” The tide is changing…

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