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Marriage: Civil vs. Religious

  |   By: Steven Boydstun     |   Opinion Uncategorized

Last summer the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, the 1996 law which allowed states to refuse to recognize same-sex marriages which took place in states where it is legal. It also prevented many married gay couples from receiving benefits like insurance and healthcare that their straight counterparts were entitled to by virtue of being married. The interesting thing about the DOMA ruling is that they cited the 14th Amendment which contains the Equal Protection Clause as their rationale for striking down DOMA.

Now, I’m not a lawyer…yet. But when the ruling was issued last year it seemed that by using the 14th Amendment as a rationale, SCOTUS was painting with a rather large brush stroke which many rightly predicted would open up more legal challenges as a result of DOMA’s demise. If each state’s ban on same-sex marriage were a domino, the Supreme Court flicked the biggest one first and the rest are tumbling down one by one.

Since DOMA was struck down, no ban on same-sex marriage or benefits has survived when challenged in court. Zero. Nada. None. As of today, 19 states recognize same-sex marriage with several others in limbo. A classic talking point for those opposing same-sex marriages was that only a few crazy liberal states on the northeast and “left” coasts recognized it and they were a secular minority that would never infiltrate the traditional Midwest or pious South.

They were wrong.

Only 2 states either do not recognize same-sex marriage or are not currently facing legal challenges to its ban on it: North Dakota and South Dakota. 48 of our fifty states either recognize same-sex marriage or are in legal battles which will likely result in the overturning of most if not all of the remaining states’ bans. Which brings me to the Heart of Dixie.

When asked about it last week, Governor Robert Bentley gave a diplomatic and respectable answer. He said he and Attorney General Luther Strange would defend Alabama’s ban on same-sex marriage, telling one reporter, “I have to defend the constitution…I don’t pass the laws. The legislature passes the laws, the people vote on the constitutional amendments.” He added, “Laws change; people’s ideas change. The people of Alabama voted 81 percent to have the ban on same-sex marriage, and it’s in our constitution. Whatever the people vote on, I support. I believe in the people’s right to vote and this is how they feel, so I support the people.”

Governor Bentley’s statement, even if you disagree with him, made his position clear while respecting people on both sides of the issue. He didn’t turn into a holy roller or predict the impending doom of the republic; and for that, I am relieved. Our state’s Chief Justice could learn from him.

A similar response came from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Corbett, also a Republican, last week when a federal judge struck down that state’s ban on same-sex marriage. He issued a statement, saying, “Given the high legal threshold set forth by Judge Jones in this case, the case is extremely unlikely to succeed on appeal.” The Governor included a distinction between his personal views and his duty as Governor by noting “As a Roman Catholic, the traditional teaching of my faith has not w​​avered. I continue to maintain the belief that marriage is between one man and one woman. My duties as Governor require that I follow the laws as interpreted by the Courts and make a judgment as to the likelihood of a successful appeal.”

Thankfully, another high-profile conservative whose words and acts can explain to the rest of us the difference between civil and religious marriage has come forward. After all, as I’ve pointed out before, using the government to usurp people’s rights is anything but conservative.

There are two sides to a marriage: legal and spiritual. Civil marriage just means that it’s recognized by the government and you receive the legal benefits of marriage such as joint insurance, next of kin status, etc. Religious marriage means your faith recognizes and celebrates your union in accordance with the teachings and traditions of that faith denomination. You can have one or both aspects in a marriage.

In the United States, a couple can get a marriage license at the courthouse, have a minister officiate the wedding, and both the civil and religious entities recognize the marriage as a result of one ceremony. But, in many European countries all couples are required to first go through a civil marriage officiated by a government official and after that a religious ceremony is at the couple’s discretion.

If one’s religious beliefs prohibit same-sex marriage, my only suggestion would be to attend a church and a denomination that does not perform them. That’s a religious matter. As a legal matter, two consenting adults should be able to do just about whatever they want as long as it does not infringe upon the legal rights of others.

That’s freedom. That’s America.

Follow Steven on Twitter at @skboydstun

Steven Boydstun holds a Bachelor of Science degree in Political Science from Troy University (Troy) and a Master of Public Administration degree from The University of Alabama. Views expressed are his own and not necessarily those of his employer or any other affiliate.