By August Berkshire
Last year Minnesota Atheists participated in six Gay Pride celebrations because the attempt by religious people to deny equal rights to people based on sexual orientation is one of the most prevalent violations of separation of state and church in America.
The Republican majorities in the State Congress are trying to place a
question on the November 2012 ballot to allow Minnesotans to vote to
amend the State Constitution to limit civil marriage to “only one man
and one woman.”
Any religious argument for denying same-sex couples
the right to a civil marriage can be dismissed out-of-hand as a
violation of separation of state and church.
In an attempt to build a
secular case in favor of discrimination against same-sex couples
regarding civil marriage (as well as other civil rights), some people
have offered the following arguments. For the following reasons, these
arguments are not valid.
A) Normalcy. “Same-sex attraction is not normal, so same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married.”
by “normal” we mean “conforming to the norm” or “common,” then there
are many ways in which every person is “not normal.” For example,
left-handed or red-haired people are “not normal” in most populations;
people of Icelandic ancestry are “not normal” in Alabama; etc. But
prevalence of a physical attribute or characteristic should not affect a
person’s rights as a citizen.
B) Nature. “Same-sex attraction is not natural, so same-sex couples should not be allowed to get married.”
by “natural” we mean “a naturally occurring variation,” then same-sex
attraction is indeed natural and is found in many species, including
humans. But even if same-sex attraction was not natural, it should not
affect a person’s rights.
C) Changeability. “Homosexuals have the
ability to change their sexual orientation, and if they do they can be
part of an opposite-sex marriage. Therefore, there is no need to offer
Most scientists believe that, in the vast
majority of cases, a person’s sexual orientation cannot be changed and
that it is harmful to even try. Yet whether or not a person’s sexual
orientation is changeable should not affect a person’s rights as a
D) Fertility. “Two men or two women cannot naturally produce
offspring with each other. Therefore, they should not be allowed to
marry each other.”
The State has never imposed fertility tests in
order for couples to get married or to stay married. The production of
offspring has never been a requirement for civil marriage. For example,
the State does not have laws prohibiting post-menopausal heterosexual
women from getting married.
E) Brothers and sisters. “If we go down
this slippery slope of same-sex marriage, what’s to prevent brothers and
sisters from marrying each other?”
The same law that now prevents a
brother and sister from marrying each other can be applied to a brother
marrying a brother or a sister marrying a sister. Such a prohibition
would be Constitutional because it would be equal treatment under the
F) Age. “If we go down this ‘slippery slope’ of same-sex
marriage, what’s to prevent an adult from marrying a child or a child
from marrying a child?”
Statutory rape laws should be applied
equally, regardless of people’s sexual orientation. Children should not
be allowed to marry each other, regardless of sexual orientation,
because children lack the maturity necessary for marriage.
G) Polygamy. “If we go down this ‘slippery slope’ of same-sex marriage, what’s to prevent polygamy from being ruled legal?”
State may determine the number of people it wishes to recognize in
civil marriage. However, it should not discriminate on the basis of
race, religion, or sexual orientation, as to who may enter into a civil
H) Assault on religion. “If same-sex marriage becomes legal, religions will be forced to perform same-sex marriages.”
of the First Amendment’s guarantee of separation of State and Church,
the State is prohibited from dictating what a religion’s standards are
for their religious marriage ceremonies. Thus, for example, Catholic
priests may refuse to marry divorced people and Orthodox Jewish rabbis
may refuse to marry interfaith couples. However, the State may not
refuse to marry divorced or interfaith couples. Similarly, religions may
refuse to marry same-sex couples, but the State should not be allowed
to exercise such discrimination.
I) Definitions. “This will change the definition of marriage.”
defined historically, has included polygamy. Marriage, as defined by
some States in this country, used to exclude mixed-race couples. Even
setting these examples aside, the State has the right to define marriage
as it pleases, so long as in that definition it does not discriminate
against its citizens.