Marriage again ‘under attack’

First Posted: 6/8/2008

The California Supreme Court has declared war on traditional marriage, if the religious right and other social conservatives are to be believed.

The court last month ruled that prohibiting gay couples from state-recognized marriage violates that state's constitution. Last week, the court refused to stop its May 15 order that local and state officials sanction gay marriage until California voters decide this November whether to amend the state constitution to specify that marriage be between one man and one woman.

Gay couples will be able to get a California-sanctioned marriage beginning June 16. Given the court's failure to act, voters' failing to protect marriage this November not only won't keep gay couples from exchanging state-recognized vows in California, but heterosexual marriage will cease to exist and otherwise straight children will have no choice but to be gay.

You see what's at stake, if you listen to social conservatives.

All that's really at stake in California is the use of the word "marriage." Gays already enjoy sweeping domestic partner benefits, according to Robert Alt of the conservative think tank The Heritage Foundation. Gay couples in California already have just about all the same rights and privileges of marriage, including the ability to make medical decisions, file joint tax returns and exchange surnames, Alt writes.

The state just hasn't used the word "marriage" to this point. The California Supreme Court decided separate but equal wording for legal domestic arrangements doesn't cut it.

Christian groups are calling this an attack on traditional marriage.

Imagine conservatives, particularly religious conservatives, running to government - or, in this case, voters - to defend their definition of marriage. Traditional marriage being a religious concept, one might expect religious conservatives to balk at the idea of government needing to approve a particular belief. But, no. Why not have Caesar put his seal on the way you believe Jesus meant things to be?

Given conservatives' once-dim view of government, the so-called threat from gay marriage should be the impetus to get the state out of marriage, leaving it to churches to perform the wedding ceremonies they deem appropriate. Some straight couples choose not to marry in a church, so why not label them all - straight and gay - what they really are: civil unions? Unfortunately, as is the case with federal entitlement programs, conservatives see a benefit in government, so long as it's only for people with whom conservatives are comfortable.

What about majority rules? Some 61 percent of California voters in 2000 decided marriage should be between one man and one woman. Alt rightly notes that supreme courts exist to override the error of the majority, but he then goes looking for a specific constitutional provision granting gay marriage. None exists. Funny how conservatives have gone from believing in Jefferson's creator-endowed certain unalienable rights to only those rights someone took the time to number.

Someone who looks cynically at organized religion might suggest the message has grown weak if believers don't have any belief without government or majority approval.

But, exactly how would two gay people getting married threaten the marriage of two straight people? Divorce rates have skyrocketed over the last half-century, but that doesn't have anything to do with straight people rushing out to become gay.

It's useless - and legally pointless - to argue whether homosexuality is a sin. Religious conservatives are sure it is. Gay people think otherwise. But the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution says Congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion, which later would become applicable to the states. This nation's founders established that only those things that violate rights - not those that upset one's religious sensibilities - should face government sanction. Two gay people getting married, no matter how offensive you find it, doesn't violate your rights. If the government is in the business of marrying straight people, neither it nor the majority has any reason to deny gay people the same word in the same ceremony.

Comment on this and other subjects on Lederman's blog: Lederman appears at 3:30 p.m. Mondays on "Talk With Ron Williams," on Lima's ESPN station, 940 AM, or

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