A real threat to marriage

Two weeks ago as Obama won a resounding victory both in the country as a whole and even more decisively in California, Californians also passed Proposition 8.  Prop 8 was an amendment to the California constitution that defined marriage as an institution between one man and one woman.  With the passage of Prop 8, 18,000 couples had their legal marriages dissolved.

Supporters of Proposition 8 claim that the act was necessary to help defend the traditional institution of marriage.  Specifically, they looked to the Bible and its condemnation of homosexuality.  They claimed that recognizing homosexual marriage undermined the biblical concept of marriage.

Now, I’ve read a good chunk of the Bible over the years, and I’m pretty certain that what’s represented therein is not really what Prop 8 supporters had in mind.  Unless of course, they want to see the reinstatement of polygamy, at least for those that can afford it (hey, I could support two wives and it is traditional!), after all, Solomon had 700 wives and another 300 concubines.  As a side note, I can just imagine how that conversation would go with K:  honey, I think we can afford a concubine – how about it?  <smack>

So if Prop 8 doesn’t really do anything to promote the Biblical understanding of marriage, what about protecting heterosexual marriages?  I can’t speak for everyone, but I’ve been married for over fifteen years now and I can’t see any way that the possibility of gay people, some of them friends, most of them that I’ve never met could possibly threaten my marriage.  I can’t even see how the possibility of gay marriage could threaten potential marriages (i.e., the institution of marriage).  What, Bristol Palin was going to get married to her baby’s father, but now because gay couples in Connecticut can get married, she won’t?

Marriage in the U.S. is essentially a legal contract between two consenting people.  That contract can optionally be sanctified (made holy) when blessed in a religious ceremony.  But the religious ceremony itself is truely optional.  It doesn’t matter which religion has sanctified your marriage, you can opt not to have it sanctified at all by having the contract witnessed and signed by a justice of the peace.  In our case, K and I were married by my grandfather, a (Lutheran?) minister, in a non-denominational church.  The wedding ceremony itself can be important in that it publicly recognizes the marriage and encourages the observers to assist the newlyweds as they start their lives together.  That community support can be important when trying to adjust to married life.

Again, none of this is threatened by gay marriage.  If anything, the institution of marriage is stronger for being more inclusive.

But here’s the thing.  We did just witness one new threat to the institution of marriage – Proposition 8 itself.  To my knowledge, this is the first time that marriages recognized by a state have been annulled by the state [1].  18,000 couples had legal marriage contracts, signed and recognized by the state of California.  Those 18,000 couples have now been unmarried. This establishes a precedent that should worry anyone who is married.

Imagine that we took the Bible’s admonishments about divorce or adultery seriously.  The Bible traditionally doesn’t recognize divorce (which leads to the Catholic church’s crazy annulment system) and calls for the stoning of adulterers.  What if those traditional concepts became enshrined in law or the California constitution?  Malachi 2:16 – “I hate divorce, says the Lord God of Israel.”  Matthew 19:6, “So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

Under the marriage threatening precedent of Prop 8, it would be entirely reasonable to further defend marriage by excluding anyone who had previously been divorced from remarrying.  Moreover, we could go further and say that marriage is between one man and one woman, neither of whom has been previously married.  All of the sudden, several million marriages could be dissolved.

I suspect that such an amendment/law is unlikely, after all, there is a bigger constituency of divorced people than gay people.  But on the merits, a no-divorcee amendment isn’t any crazier than Prop 8 and should serve as a reminder for why religious views of marriage should not impinge upon the legal contract that is a marriage.

[1] The closest comparison I can come to would be the anti-polygamy laws aimed at the Mormon Church in the 19th century, but even there, I don’t think that the original polygamous marriages had been recognized by the states before the laws’ passage explicitly stated that they wouldn’t be recognized.  The comparison is also ironic in that it was the Mormon church that largely bankrolled the Yes on Prop 8 movement.


  1. bjay said,

    November 21, 2008 @ 12:26 pm

    Nicely said. Perish the thought that we should have to live according to the bible’s dictates.

    One thing: those existing marriages aren’t dissolved, at least not yet. The California Supreme Court has agreed to decide the fate of the Prop. 8 same-sex marriage ban. True, no new weddings for gay and lesbian couples until they do, probably in June. The Court is also expected to rule on the legal status of couples who wed before the vote.

  2. cec said,

    November 21, 2008 @ 4:50 pm

    bjay – you’re absolutely right about the marriages not being dissolved yet. I realized that about halfway through the posting. I wound up not correcting it, because: a) as you note, the fate of the marriages has not been determined one way or the other, although the marriages are in jeopardy; and b) the intent of Prop 8 and its supporters seems to be to unmarry people so the main point isn’t really affected

    thanks for the clarification

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