Civil rights activists and those who believe in the separation of church and state have reason to rejoice at President Obama’s decision to come out of the closet and support gay marriage.
But that one deed does not give gays the right to marry. It will still require a great deal of effort at the state level both to fight legislation and ballot initiatives banning gay marriage and to support legislation and initiatives enabling two people of the same sex to join in legal wedlock.
Notice that I write “legal wedlock” and not “holy wedlock,” because not all marriages are sanctioned by a religion.
As far as the state is concerned, marriage is a legal contract between two people granting each party to the marriage a set of rights and responsibilities.
Now virtually all religions consider marriage a sacrament—a religious act—to one degree or another. Religions will prescribe restrictions and rights on both parties in addition to those mandated by the state. No one has to follow those additional commands, only those who profess the religion.
As a convenience, most states allow religious officials to perform state marriages at the same time they are giving the religious nuptials. But that does not mean that the additional mandates of a religious marriage carry any weight in a court of law.
At the end of the day, the issue of gay marriage has always come down to the concept of the separation of church and state. If the state enforces religious proscriptions against two people of the same sex getting married, it is endorsing the religion or religions that have that belief. I have no problem with priests, Orthodox rabbis or any other religious official refusing to perform a gay marriage ceremony, nor do I have a problem with any religion excluding anyone for behavior the religion considers immoral or unethical. But a secular state like the 50 state and one federal governments of the United States shouldn’t.
Obama risked nothing by his move and probably gained votes. Polls suggest that those who are vehemently against gay marriage weren’t going to vote for Obama anyway, while many of those in favor of gay marriage now have a big reason to go to the polls and vote for the President.
It is Romney who is risking a lot by remaining adamantly opposed both gay marriage and civil unions. The latest polls show that more people now approve of gay marriage than are against it, with the attitudes of the youngest generations most supportive of the right of two people of the same sex to wed.
One does have to admire Romney for his consistency, though. Other than a vehement opposition to raising taxes on the wealthy, Mitt’s opposition to gay marriage has been the one issue through the years about which he has not flip-flopped around like a lapdog wanting the approval of whatever hand was extending the treats.
Romney is consistent in his argument as well, opposing both civil unions and gay marriage. To make a distinction between the two involves a patronizing word game that makes one think of corporate board rooms with wrap-around picture windows in which executives in thousand-dollar suits are trying to figure out a better way to say “layoffs,” “recall,” “spill” or “multiple deaths.”
Those who propose civil unions but not marriages for gays insult the intelligence of both the general public and the many people who want to pledge their troth to someone of the same sex. Civil unions waddle and quack like the duck of marriage, so why create a special word?
Romney, who is so ready to employ pseudo concepts such as “business confidence” and “job creators,” reveals clear-headed thinking when it comes to marriage and civil unions. They are the same thing, so let’s get on with the fight!
A fight, I might add, that I believe Mitt Romney will lose, both in the short and long terms. In the short term, Mitt is giving young people and a minority representing somewhere between 5% and 15% of voters a reason to register and then vote for President Obama. And in the long term, gay marriage will prevail in the United States, although it may yet take another 10 years or more.