“Goin’ to the chapel of love”

I’ll admit up front that I don’t understand why people want to keep other people from marrying those they love. I do not have a strong religious background; I’m a Unitarian Universalist, if I must call myself something. So when I saw the Kentucky clerk cite “God’s Law” when she refused to issue a marriage license to a gay couple, when same-sex marriage is now the law of the land,  I wondered how this one American woman with no formal legal or (I’m guessing here) religious training knows with such certainty what God intended in that particular statute?

When you think about it, every single day in this country thousands of attorneys and their teams, judges and their courts, students and their professors, debate and test American and International law. It’s probably more like millions of legal minds who focus on precedents, details, hidden meanings regarding laws all over the world. It’s complicated, and it changes with the times. So how one person could have the arrogance to declare what the law is when it comes to a marriage contract is beyond me.

A few years ago, I read a book by Elizabeth Gilbert about marriage. She had resisted getting married for a number of years, but had finally changed her mind. She wanted to know about the history of marriage, so she started doing research. What she found — and what really struck me — was that marriage pre-dates Christianity by centuries. It came about because people needed to commit to taking care of each other and their children in very rugged circumstances. Somebody had to hunt; somebody had to gather; somebody had to make sure the kids didn’t starve. It was often an agreement between families to consolidate land holdings and resources. Sometimes it was to distribute wealth or, for that matter, genes. It was a contract that didn’t have anything to do with any religious affiliation. Until, one day, it did.

Years ago I helped make a documentary with the local Catholic archdiocese at the Vatican in Rome. One of the priests assigned to help us told us something that really stuck with me. He said that a pope (I forget which one — it was centuries ago) decided that priests and their large families were bleeding the church of its wealth. So, in his infallible way, he declared that priests could no longer marry. I have yet to meet a Catholic who knows that little fact. It wasn’t “God” who decided priests couldn’t marry, it was a pope who wanted to secure the church’s riches in perpetuity.

So when I hear people cite “God’s Law” when it comes to marriage, I wonder what history book they’re reading.

One more thing. I find it so interesting that young people I talk to find the issue of same-sex marriage a non-issue. Somehow they know that the freedom to love who we love should trump man-made rules that are, frankly, obsolete. If that lady in Kentucky doesn’t believe in same-sex marriage, she doesn’t have to attend a wedding. But since it’s American taxpayers who employ her,  she does have to obey the law. And what a hard fought law it is: one that is intended to respect family values and fight against discrimination.

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