May 14, 2009

Marriage Update From New Hampshire

New Hampshire is on the verge of becoming the sixth state to adopt same-sex marriage. The Governor has indicated a pass-or-veto message and is apparently returning the bill to the Legislature. I'm not sure if that state's Constitution gives him the power to do what he's doing, but I'll assume that it does. His message on the bill is that he believe he has to balance the religious liberties of people who object to same-sex marriage with the civil liberties of those who wish to get married to their same-sex partners.

So he's splitting the baby. In essence, he will sign the same-sex marriage bill into law if the Legislature adds on language that exempts churches, facilities owned or controlled by churches, or facilities owned or controlled by "fraternal organizations" like the VFW or the Lion's Club to exclude same-sex ceremonies if they choose to do so. If the Legislature does not do so, he will veto the bill.

I'm not hugely fond of the idea of carving out exceptions to anti-discrimination laws just because the discrimination at issue is cloaked in religion. But I'm also not hugely fond of the idea of the state telling a religious group what rituals it can, cannot, or must perform. Religion should be voluntary and the state should not participate in it.

I were going to be married and a particular church or organization made plain that it did not approve of my marriage, I wouldn't want my marriage to have anything to do with that organization anyway. I know -- I was not married in a Catholic church and had no desire to be. Part of the reason for that was that I knew that the Church wouldn't have blessed my marriage because of its prohibition against divorce. If it would have, I might have tried to have the wedding in an RCC church to please some members of my family who would have liked that. But it wasn't going to happen, so it wasn't ever an issue for me.

But then again, I'm not religious, so maybe that's easy for me to say. So I have to imagine what it would be like, not only to be gay but also to be religious. And as best I can imagine, if I were gay and I was religious and my fiance was religious too, I imagine we would have found a gay-friendly church that would have voluntarily married us by the time we were able to legally tie the knot so this proposed exception to the state antidiscrimination laws would not be in play.

So on balance, the amendment seems benign. And it appears that the Legislature will indeed take up the Governor on his offer to amend the bill and extend marriage equality to all adults in New Hampshire. Should that happen, there will be six states with full-fledged marriage rights for same-sex couples, representing about 5.3% of all American citizens. Those marriage licenses are also valid in New York and D.C., expanding the right to cover about 12% of all Americans. If you include states with civil unions and domestic partnerships, the number increases to just shy of a third of us moving towards equal rights in this area.

The ball is rolling. In twenty years, people are going to look back on this debate and wonder why it was a debate at all.


Ryan Biddulph said...

This is another indication that the face of our country is changing. Not for better or worse.

I believe that the institution of marriage should be reserved for a man/woman relationship but it appears that more than a few governors don't believe the same thing. I accept it, move on, and realize that many are liberated by this legislation.

I feel that my home state of NJ may be the next to enact same same-sex legislation.

Even though I don't necessarily agree I applaud these governors for standing up for what they believe in. With any mass movement it's always the first few that have to make the toughest s because they are subject to the most criticism.


Burt Likko said...

Ryan, I commend you for taking the time to look at the issue from a perspective that is not your own, and recognizing the good intentions of those with whom you disagree. And I recognize that doing this does not mean that you have changed your own opinion.

Know that I and others are making an effort to reciprocate. If more people are capable of that, then we as a people can move the debate forward to a conclusion instead of simply shouting at each other. You, Ryan, are part of the solution, and for that you have my thanks.