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Marriage equality has become a sticking point for many Americans, primarily from the conservative side of the spectrum. As we get closer to the point where SCOTUS could arguably settle the dispute, I have been thinking about why we have ended up with the entire argument in the first place.
The basis of the marriage equity camp’s argument is the 14th Amendment, while those opposed tend to argue on the basis of the First Amendment (even though we haven’t really gotten to the point where lawsuits are being filed to force religious organizations to recognize same-sex marriage.) Ben Carson ended up in a minor situation with the Southern Poverty Law Center over the fact that he publicly stated that gay rights organizations should not be able to define marriage. Sadly, I can’t bring myself to agree with him, at least not in the context of state recognition of marriage.
And that is where we’re getting marriage wrong.
The state shouldn’t be in the business of marriage in the first place, but it’s simply not going to be ousted from it at this point. Maybe in the future Americans will dissolve the IRS, and essentially remove the necessity of the state recognizing marriage at all through changes in insurance, wills, property rights, etc. I don’t see that happening anytime soon, so I’ll deal with what we have.
Now, generally speaking, couples that wish to be married go to a county courthouse to apply for a marriage license. Then, they have that paperwork made legal either by a state-appointed official, or a religious leader. What would happen if religious leaders were able to give couples that marriage license directly?
Of course, the primary objection would be about the fees that are typically charged by county governments for that license. The reply to that is simple enough — instead of the couples paying it directly, it would still be paid on their behalf by the religious leaders issuing the marriage licenses. Most churches already charge some sort of fee for marriage ceremonies, so it shouldn’t be a very big deal to add another line to that invoice, so to speak.
Why would this resolve the issue? It’s simple enough. If states would allow religious leaders to issue marriage licenses, they could also explicitly reaffirm the First Amendment protections that churches enjoy. No state should be able to force a church to perform a marriage, right? Some churches already refuse to perform marriage ceremonies between heterosexual couples on various grounds, and no we do not see lawsuits over that.
If the goal honestly is to protect the sanctity of traditional marriage, this is the best solution. There is nothing sacred about the state. We should be primarily concerned with protecting religious rights in this argument, not worrying about what the heathen government does.