People of faith will rightfully wrestle with the question of whether to legalize same-sex marriage, but we hope all Mainers, whether they have a religion or not, will recognize that there is a difference between marriage in a church or synagogue and marriage in the eyes of the state.
Mainers will have a fair, clear ballot question when they vote on same-sex marriage in November. The emphasis of the single sentence is on the state and marriage licenses, not on the redefinition of marriage. It will read: “Do you want to allow the State of Maine to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples?”
Though beliefs and the law often conflict with each other, this question is plainly about the law. The law allows people of all religions, or no religion, to marry, so why should religion decide whether gay couples can wed? Arguing against same-sex marriage on religious grounds may have meaning for some people of faith, but it is, in the larger picture, beside the point.
Just as the law should allow the state to give same-sex couples marriage licenses, it’s the law that allows clergy to decide for themselves whether to perform a marriage ceremony — whether the couple is gay or not. If voters approve same-sex marriage on Nov. 6, clergy will still have the freedom to marry couples of their choosing.
So when Col. Kris Mineau of North Reading, Mass., president of the Massachusetts Family Institute, spoke at a meeting of the Knox-Lincoln County Tea Party in Warren recently, where people ate food from Chick-fil-A, a company opposing same-sex marriage, his words were hollow.
“We’re in a real battle for the heart and soul of America. Our rights come not from government but from God. If rights come from government, then government becomes God,” Mineau said.
His tautology is a ludicrous argument alone. But how do legal rights not come from government? That’s exactly where they come from. Does he forget that Mainers and people everywhere hold a variety of faiths? Should we not grant rights to Sikhs, Buddhists and Muslims because they worship different gods?
His own state of Massachusetts was the first to legalize same-sex marriage eight years ago after the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that it was required under the equal protection clause of the state’s Constitution.
The U.S. Constitution also mandates that no state shall “deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It says “any person,” not just those who are straight and Christian.
Perhaps Mineau does not believe in government-granted rights because they already run counter to his philosophy?
If same-sex marriage is legalized, churches, temples and mosques will not be required to perform wedding ceremonies. At the very least, religious leaders could acknowledge that the legal freedom they have to choose who to join in marriage is the same legal freedom same-sex couples are seeking to be able to marry. And it is just that: freedom under the law, not the church.