Saturday, April 28, 2007

I Now Pronounce You...

Note: This was originally published in my hometown newspaper sometime in 2003.

My niece is getting married today. She’s the first of a long line of my nieces and nephews to get married. It’s an exciting time for all of us. But, her marriage is not without family controversy. She fell in love with a man who shares her worldview. They both actively help the poor, work for the disenfranchised, and attack bigotry. For my very conservative Catholic family it has raised a lot of questions. What will it mean for her future? How secure a life will she have? The one consolation they had was that he, like them, was a Catholic. Was.

The chief controversy arose when they told their parents they no longer considered themselves to be Catholic. They were not going to be married in the Catholic Church and that was that. My brother and sister-in-law, shrugged their shoulders and said to the rest of us, “This is the man she picked. It’s her decision, now ours’. There are no laws preventing this. What can we do about it?”

So this last year has been one of adjustment. Now my parents, sisters and brothers are getting used to this idea. Most of them are even are looking forward to a wedding that will be in a house, not a church.

The idea of marriage has been a fluid one through out history. The philosopher George Santanya taught us that if we do not learn from history, we are doomed to repeat it.

Early Christians were cautioned to not marry at all. Paul wrote that while it’s better to marry then burn in hell… it’s even better to be celibate. Why? It was a way to bring about an end to society, as a result stepping up the reign of God. For over a thousand years, marriage was primarily a financial transaction conducted between families. The wealthier the families, the less control the children had over their marriage prospects. Marriages formed political and economic alliances. There was a time when governments did not keep track of who was married to whom and did not issue marriage licenses.

Then, in the past few centuries, things began to change again. The idea of romantic love and union came into being. Parents no longer picked a partner and the institution of marriage has become a powerful legal and social institution. It supports close family relationships by providing a unique set of rights, privileges and responsibilities.

The Supreme Court decided that gays can now express their love without the fear of jail-time. The decision says that their right to liberty under the Due Process Clause of the Constitution gives them the full right to engage in their conduct without intervention of any government. They wrote in their decision, “The Texas statute furthers no legitimate state interest which can justify its intrusion into the personal and private live of the individual. Has this opened the door for same sex marriages? I sure hope so.

While slave owners encouraged marriage, there was no legal right marriage rights for slaves. They were property and if the property owner wanted to sell, trade or kill a partner’s spouse, he could. That is our history and it was wrong.

In our past we outlawed some marital unions. Thirty states had laws that prohibited black and white marriages. California outlawed the "intermarriage of white persons with Chinese, Negroes, mulattos, or persons of mixed blood descended from a Chinaman or Negro from the third generation inclusive.” It’s our history, and it was wrong.

As recently as1965, a Gallup poll revealed that 42 percent of northern whites supported laws against interracial marriage 72 percent of southern whites. In 1976, fifteen states that still had, so called, miscegenation laws, were ruled unconstitutional by the Supreme Court, because it is wrong to invade a person’s right to choose a partner. It’s our history and it was wrong.

And, now comes Bill Frist who wants to make a constitutional amendment to ban gay marriage. When will we learn?

Once love and freedom become the central values for making a good marriage, the idea of same sex marriages becomes possible. If marriage is about loving each other, living together, and sharing resources, why shouldn’t they have the same recognition and protection that other couples enjoy? That is the question we face today.

A little known philosopher, my dad, used to say to me as I was growing up, “Some people live and learn, and some people just live… which will you be?”

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