If you’ve been living anywhere that is not under a rock for the past couple of days, you can’t have failed to notice that, in a pretty monumental move, the United States Supreme Court declared that same sex marriages are legal across all fifty states. Previously it had been possible for gay couples to wed in only a handful of states with the majority of states banning and not recognising them, however, following a 5-4 vote in the Supreme Court, gay couples may now tie the knot in all fifty states.
As one can imagine, the response has been huge – go anywhere on the web and you’ll find rainbow banners; they are all over facebook as people “rainbow-fy” their profile pictures and, even as I write this, there is a rainbow banner across the top of my WordPress post editor. The legalisation of gay marriage in the USA has been seen a massive step in the direction of LGBT+ rights and a step towards true marriage equality – and a long time coming, America, but welcome to the club all the same!
Much of the international community has been celebrating this historic event and even Republicans are beginning to wake up and smell the coffee, with one Republican pundit appearing on CNN to tearful urge her party to move with the times or fall behind for good. It has, for the most part, been quite a happy occasion.
However, what I can’t help fail to notice are those who are still vehemently opposed to marriage equality – they’re all over my newsfeed on facebook, there are newspaper articles all over the place and videos from American “news” programmes denouncing it as “the darkest 24 hours in American history”, the “beginning of the [American/Christian] holocaust”, etc…
And here’s the thing; they are all citing, for the most part, the bible and their right to “religious freedom”. The former really isn’t a real reason and the latter is totally misconstrued as a valid argument. As a matter of fact, quoting the bible and then citing rights to religious freedom are totally contradictory, and here’s why:
When people cite the bible as a means of opposition to same sex marriage, they tend to go along the lines of “marriage is between one man and one woman”. So, in essence, one is saying that marriage – a legal contract between two people, as far as the state is concerned – should be defined by a religious text. Those opposed would also say that allowing same sex marriage is an infringement on their rights to religious freedom, i.e., the freedom to deny certain rights to certain groups of people (Not really fair either, but we’ll cover that later).
But religious freedom extends to those without faith as well – the right not to practice a religion. Therefore, if we truly respect the right to freedom of religious practice, then to deny citizens a basic right such as marriage is an infringement of that right as they (those same-sex couples wishing to marry) are defining marriage outside of religious text, in a legal setting where it belongs as a legal contract.
There’s another crucial fact to remember too before you pull out your King Jim copy and start thumping away – marriage pre-dates the bible, it pre-dates every Abrahamic religion too and it has not always been defined as “one man and one woman” as you’d perhaps read in your copy of the good book. Even now, in – what is officially – a secular society, it’s not defined directly by the bible; it is, as I said earlier, a legal contract between two people that offers certain legal benefits and securities to those involved.
I used another important word there too – “secular”. A secular state, for those who are still in the dark over this one, is one in which the laws can not be defined or influenced to any great degree by religion or religious dogma or doctrine. In other words, religion is separate from the state and the state legislates within the interests of all its citizens without making laws to discriminate against any groups of people based on religion – i.e., not refusing the right of a large demographic to marry because it says so in scripture.
However, if you want to go to a country with a state religion, where religious figures still have a say in legislation, you have a couple of options; Iran… perhaps not, and the UK. Yep, good old Blighty; where there are still unelected bishops in the House of Lords, the state religion is Anglicanism and same-sex marriage is legal… ah, sorry, chaps. And for those of you Americans saying you want to move to Canada, same-sex marriage has been legal there since 2005. Almost like it’s the right thing to do, eh?
But, I digress; there is another argument that the Christian far-right like to use and that is that homosexuality itself is a sin. Now, I’ve two things to say on this: the first is that if one decides to follow all the laws of the bible, then we’re going to have to kill those wearing clothes of two fabrics, those who eat meat on Fridays, those who divorce, those who have sex outside of marriage, those who show disrespect to their family members, etc.
Now the responses to this fall into two categories; those who follow them to the letter and, as a consequence, are either dead or have no friends, and those who claim “some of those laws are no longer appropriate today”. The latter leads me onto point number two, quite nicely. You see, you cannot simply cherry-pick the bits of the bible that are appropriate in this day and age and those that aren’t as you please, the fact is that, since the bronze age, much has changed in our attitudes to things such as divorce, extra-marital sex, composite cloths and, in keeping with tonight’s theme, homosexuality.
The bible doesn’t really deal with homosexuality, rather with sodomy and lust. The idea of homosexuality was not quite fully understood that long ago, rather those who engaged in homosexual practices were seen as lustful and engaging in acts of the flesh without real love and commitment. The bible, and cultures throughout history, have defined marriage primarily as a means of expressing one’s love and commitment to another – as homosexuality was not understood and seen as loveless lust, it didn’t fit this idea. However, as with meat on Fridays and divorces, attitudes towards homosexuality have changed in recent time; we understand that there are no differences in the love felt between two people of the same sex and two of the opposite, that homosexuality is not a choice and that people have a right to be happy with those they love.
But this article isn’t about homosexuality in general, it’s about marriage, so, back to that.
Thankfully many religious people realise this and much of the church is becoming more progressive – but there are still a few who oppose the right of same-sex couples to show their commitment and love for one another in the same what that heterosexual couples do. And whilst the voice of the dissenters is still very loud and very angry, the voice of the growing movement of progressive religious groups is growing – and that is superb to see.
There is one final argument that gets tossed about too and it’s not necessarily a religious one – rather it’s a last ditch attempt to gain some pity support; I am, of course, talking about the “my marriage now means less” defence. Utter pish. Nobody is forcing you to marry someone of the same sex, you can still have a heterosexual wedding; it’s not like a one-or-the-other affair. Your marriage was built on your love, support, commitment, and devotion to your spouse – a bond between the two of you and nobody else. If the fact that other people can now marry those they love devalues your marriage, perhaps it wasn’t going to work out anyway.
Because, and here’s the killer, if you’re a heterosexual couple, it doesn’t affect you in any way, shape or form.
Why? Because nobody is forcing you to have a “gay wedding”. All this law does is allow same-sex couples who love each other and want to show their devotion to one another do just that, your marriage is not affected in any way. All that is happening is that one more demographic within your country gets to be treated as human beings: afforded the same rights and legal protections as everyone else. And if that upsets you, then, sorry, you’re a mindless, bigoted fool.
Your religion, or interpretation thereof, might say that it is wrong for two people of the same sex to marry – you don’t have to marry someone of the same sex and you don’t have to go the a same-sex wedding (odds are you’re not getting invited anyway!). But the right to freedom of religion does not extend to the right to deprive others of rights enjoyed by yourself – especially when that right is one to a legal contract, not a solely religious practice.
To the United States of America, I say a big, and well deserved, “Well Done!” That doesn’t happen often, so cherish it. To those of you still opposed, I beg you to look around you; the world is changing, it’s moving forwards and, if you continue to oppose that progress, you’ll be left behind.
And to those of you still fighting for marriage equality – be that in countries where same-sex marriages are still not legal or as a member of the trans community still looking for representation and equal rights, keep fighting; we’re making progress and we will get there someday.
This is a happy time – but we’ve still got work to do!