oberon zell-ravenheart

RE: Gay Marriages

By Oberon Zell
Originally written Feb. 28, 200

Amid all the rhetoric around the hot topic of “gay marriages,” I have not seen much mention of these rather obvious points:

How can any people uniting in the loving commitment of marriage possibly “threaten” the institution of marriage itself, or the marriages of anyone already in such unions? What kind of hateful and mean-spirited person would wish to deny to others the right to wedded bliss that they themselves enjoy? And how is someone’s marriage and private sex life anyone else’s business anyway?

If the issue and institution of marriage is truly a religious one, as advocates for this proposed “Constitutional Amendment” themselves claim, then ipso facto, any legislation to regulate it is inherently unconstitutional by the 1st Amendment, and must be struck down by the Supreme Court.

Opponents of same-sex marriages claim that the purpose of marriage is to conceive and raise children, and therefore, same-sex couples, who cannot conceive with each other, should be prohibited from marrying. If we are to accept that argument, we must then prohibit marriages of heterosexual couples who either cannot (or choose not to) produce children (due to age, infertility, or any number of reasons—including personal choice). And what about couples who marry, bringing in children of a previous marriage? Many same-sex couples are doing just that. Should widows be allowed to remarry? And how about adoption, then, which many otherwise childless couples have done through the ages, and which is generally considered admirable? What’s the difference between opposite- or same-sex childless couples adopting kids? And then there’s the whole question of all the single mothers out there, whose sperm-contributors are completely out of the picture. Why should it matter whether the person they marry to help parent their child be a man or a woman?

If the model for “traditional marriage” is, as advocates for this “Constitutional Amendment” claim, the Biblical one, then, according to the Bible itself, that model is one of polygamy, not monogamy. Heterosexual monogamy as the only legal form of marriage was historically established by Roman law—those same Romans who crucified Jesus and destroyed Jerusalem. That is, this is the law of the enemy and oppressor of both Jews and Christians; why should modern Jews and Christians wish to abide by it?

Heterosexual monogamy as the sole model for legal marriage is not, in fact, universally endorsed by all religions of the world. Islam, Hinduism, Buddhism, and most Pagan religions all accept both same-sex and polygamous marriages as valid. And even among modern Christians and Jews, there are entire sects and even local denominations that not only accept such unions, but are willing to sanctify them in rites performed by their ordained clergy.

It seems to me the entire dialogue around this issue is being framed wrongly. All these national polls that ask whether people are in favor of gay marriages or not? Completely the wrong question, as it’s no one else’s business. That’s like asking people if they are in favor of vegetarianism or not. What journalists should be asking is: “Do you feel the Government has the right to tell you whom you may or may not marry?” Ask THAT question of people on the street, and I think you’d come up with entirely different statistics! And then we’d have a basis for deciding what policies should be inscribed in law…

On Nov. 14, 1997, the Clergy Council of the Church of All Worlds adopted and issued the following resolution:

The Marriage Resolution

Because marriage is a basic human right and an individual personal choice, Resolved: the State shall not interfere with any people who choose to marry and share fully and equally in the rights, responsibilities, and commitment of civil marriage.

There is a great deal to be said on the subject of marital legalities, but basically, I believe, it all boils down to one central issue:

Is there, in fact, a clear and justifiable cause (i.e., a compelling interest) for the State to intervene in the personal lives of individual citizens to the extent of imposing strictures on the nature of such private relationships as sex and marriage? There are many of us who contend strongly that there is not; and that, moreover, such strictures are wholly religious in origin and nature, and are thus in direct violation of the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States.

We maintain that churches have the right to regulate the “moral” behavior only of their own members—and even then, only of those who choose to accept such regulation (many Catholics, for example, choose not to obey their Church’s prohibition on birth control); and that they certainly have no right to impose their religious strictures on people who are not even members of their own religions.

While most Christian churches authorize and perform sacramental rites of marriage only for heterosexual couples, many other religions (including even some Christian clergy) have no such restrictions; and in a country based on separation of Church and State, their ceremonies of sacred union must also be regarded as equally valid, binding, and legal.

Many of us hold that marriage is essentially a legal contract (as in the Jewish Ketubah) for a committed relationship, in the same vein as any other legally-binding contract of partnership, corporation, etc.; and that the number and/or gender of those who wish to enter into such an arrangement should be solely the concern of those individuals themselves.

Further, we hold that the State must, by the terms of the First Amendment, recognize equally all forms of marriage entered into voluntarily between informed and mutually consenting adults, regardless of the gender and/or number of those wishing to so commit themselves. To refuse to do so constitutes unwarranted discrimination.

This, I believe, is the essential core of this debate—which is a far larger issue than merely “gay marriages.”

Oberon Zell-Ravenheart, Primate
Church of All Worlds

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