Getting married in the US: Separation of church and state

While the Supreme Court continues to deliberate about the two cases heard last March regarding same-sex marriage, the debate remains as hot as ever, posing the same conflicting questions that have left America in a state of social and political division for decades.

Although a ruling is not expected until late June, the importance of the Supreme Court’s decision last December to hear the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) and California’s Proposition 8 cases has been recognized as having the potential to create a real shift in marriage equality.

“The biggest point here is equal rights,” said Brandi Jo, president of the on campus club Student Organized to Unite People (SOUP). “In order to get those rights, the right to marry has to come first.”

The rights that Jo is referring to are imperative for married couples, including numerous medical, employment, and death benefits. Because of the 1996 DOMA that was signed into law by President Bill Clinton, same-sex couples are refused these rights. Although civil unions are often offered in place of marriage, these couples are denied an estimated 1,138 rights that married couples are granted.

“In the constitution, we are given the right to be treated equal,” Jo said. “DOMA calls same-sex couples out and refuses to recognize them, therefore going completely against a constitutional right that is granted to Americans at birth.”

And this is where the issue lies for many Americans, between granting equal rights while trying to uphold the supposed sanctity of marriage. This potential compromise between equality and religion may be harder than it seems.

“I think that most of the people who want to claim a certain understanding of marriage as being based from the Bible often really don’t know what they’re talking about,” said Assistant Professor of Theology Micah Kiel. “The reality is that marriage is always something that is socially constructed, whether that is the version of marriage that shows up in the Bible or our understanding of marriage today.”

Nevertheless, marriage remains to be a murky term. Because of the lack of a concrete definition from the Bible, this means marriage could be interpreted in a number of different ways. For some, love is at its core, while for the Catholic Church it is a holy sacrament that means far much more.

“The Catholic Church is concerned with its sanctity,” Kiel said. “And what this means is preserving its traditional form.”
The traditional form strictly involves a man and a woman with the goal of procreation. And because same-sex couples are unable to produce children of their own, this is where the Catholic Church sees an issue.

“The Church wouldn’t say that love is irrelevant,” Kiel said. “But there’s maybe a deeper purpose which is the creation of life.”
Nonetheless, attitudes towards marriage may be changing. According to a 2012 Gallup Poll, 48 percent of Americans are opposed to same-sex marriage. This is a huge decline from 1996 when the number was approximately 68 percent.

What this means, Kiel suggests, is a wider public acceptance of homosexuality.

“I think it’s become less of a subculture,” Kiel said. “More people know people who are gay. And the more familiarity you have, the more comfortable you become with it.”

This growing acceptance could shape the outcome of the Supreme Court hearings. A number of alternatives are possible, from upholding both DOMA and Proposition 8 to striking them both dead, potentially leading to a future where gay marriage is legal on a nationwide basis.

But even if same-sex marriage is legalized in the United States, opposition will continue to thrive.

“The Church’s teaching on gay marriage is very clear, and it opposes it,” Kiel said. “However, I think it’s possible to separate the practice of your church versus a desire for greater equality in society.”

As SOUP begins making preparations for the national Day of Silence on April 19, Jo remains certain that no matter what your perspective, to have an educated opinion is crucial in making an informed decision.

“Before we can even think about change, we must first look at educating our peers,” Jo said. “I’m not going to care one way or another if you are for or against gay marriage as long as you have your own constructed opinion.”

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