California's Proposition 8 Obfuscates The Real Issue At Hand In North America: The Separation Of Church And State

I do not live in California, or even the United States, for that matter, but I was so saddened to read this morning that Proposition 8, a constitutional amendment bill that would ban legal homosexual marriage in that state, was passed. The fact that enough Californians saw it as just to pass judgment on what happens in the bedrooms of strangers so much so that they would deem it appropriate to take away some of their constitutional, although short-lived, rights is outrageous.

I understand that a lot of people voted in favour of this amendment based on a morality borne by religious beliefs. Some believe that homosexuality is sinful and a blight in the eyes of their Lord. They are entitled to believe that as a part of their religious code, and I will not deny it to them, but the present system that allows people to force that view into a secular, government arena is unconscionable. It is antithetical to the evangelism of their faith to nonbelievers, it does not speak to Jesus' doctrine of tolerance, and it works to push more fear and anger into the world rather than create greater levels of human understanding and love.

But that is not my greatest concern. Believe the way you will, vote the way you will. I cannot expect people to put their faith aside completely and adopt a secular mindset when they enter a voting booth. That would be asking people to ignore what they see as God's mandate for their lives, and I don't believe in asking anyone to give up their core beliefs for anyone else, no matter how detestable I find those beliefs. My greatest concern is that church and state are still bound together through this marriage issue in both Canada and the United States. As long as the church still carries out the legal duties of the state, neither the secular nor the non-secular among us will be able to live freely as the ideal of separation of church and state would have us believe we do.

Even when I was a religious youth, I did not understand why a marriage performed in my church should have any governmental bearing whatsoever. I went through a bit of a purist stage back then, and I was concerned about any watering down of our religious culture or beliefs through secular intervention, and the assumed connection between churches of governmentally accepted religions and the state made me nervous. I grew up Mennonite, and I was given to understand that, as Mennonites endured hardships across Europe for centuries, we sought a place where the separation of church and state would ensure our safety and well-being in a way that the alternatives had not. Where the state intervenes in religious practice is where religious freedom becomes most vulnerable.

I have always felt, both in my religious and non-religious incarnations, that church marriage should belong to the church and that state marriage should belong to the state. If you are religious and want to have a church ceremony, please do that, but that marriage should only be acknowledged by the state if that contract is submitted to the state also. The sanctity of church marriage would remain intact, as it could be limited to believers, and state marriage would be what it has always been, a legal contract whose ancillary depth and meaning is based within the respective hearts, minds, and cultures of the couples involved regardless of their religious conviction.

As it stands, this joining of church and state in the way of marriage has done far more to water down the meaning and intent of marriage on a religious level than allowing homosexuals to marry every could. Think about it. Anyone with opposite genitalia, whether Christian, Satanist, otherwise religious, atheist, or agnostic, can and do marry under one umbrella. In the broader scope, marriage is not about religious faith any more than it is about purple unicorns. If there is anything that needs to change, aside from giving homosexuals back the right to be treated as equals under the law, it is the worn out marriage of church and state. It does neither side of the gay marriage debate any favours.

Arguing about legality and sanctity and whatever else with regard to who marries whom while the church and state are still working through their unholy marriage woes is like fighting over the last steak when it has already gone foul. Throw out the steak and count your respective blessings, both religious and not, that you can live in a country that allows you freedoms that in other countries, whether it be your religion or your homosexuality, could sign your death certificate. The security of the rights and freedoms of all North American citizens, both religious and secular, cannot be guaranteed until the church and the state realize that their co-dependent relationship is harming their children, the citizens who have yet to realize the promise of freedom that was made so long ago.

As I already stated, where the state intervenes in religious practice is where religious freedom becomes most vulnerable, and I add to that: where religion intervenes in secular practice is where secular freedom becomes most vulnerable. In the spirit of tolerance and good fellow-feeling, the religious and the secular spheres must tear themselves asunder to bring real freedom for both sides.

We are not the same, but we can be free.

I am a participant in NaBloPoMo 2008, a challenge to write 30 posts in 30 days during the month of November. "National Blog Posting Month is the epicenter of daily blogging!"

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