Friday, April 27, 2012

NC Amendment One

The proposed Amendment One to the North Carolina state constitution represents an offensive attempt to enshrine in law a conservative version of Christianity’s definition of marriage. The proposed amendment seeks to define marriage as consisting only of one man and one woman; the proposed amendment also would deny the benefits of marriage to any couple not legally married, e.g., same-sex couples and unmarried heterosexual couples.
The Bible is not anti-homosexual. Gender orientation did not exist as a concept in the first century. Furthermore, the homosexual behaviors condemned in the Bible are exploitative, unjust relationships; the Bible makes no blanket statement about the morality of homosexual behavior.
The Bible is not a sourcebook of theological or moral propositions but a window through which God's light illumines the Jesus path. Christian marriage has three purposes: the mutual joy and support of the partners; the procreation and nurture of children – when it is God's will; a sign of God's love for God's people. None of those purposes is dependent upon the couples’ gender. Even the procreation of children can occur in several ways in the twenty-first century, an unimaginable possibility for biblical authors. Fostering or adopting children permits the nurture of children by couples who are unable or who choose not to have children (not all heterosexual couples feel called by God to be parents). In short, Christian marriage, rightly understood, consists of two people who commit to a loving, monogamous, and faithful relationship with one another.
For twenty-four years, I proudly served on active duty in the U.S. Navy, defending the Constitution against all enemies foreign and domestic. Never did I imagine that the state to which I retired would subsequently attempt to undermine the Constitution by covertly establishing a narrow, bigoted, and unbiblical version of Christianity as the law of the land. If passed, Amendment One would harm numerous children, seniors, and others in our state (for more on this cf. Protect NC Families). If passed, Amendment One would reduce anyone who held a different understanding of marriage to second-class status.
Supreme Court Justice Robert H. Jackman wrote in the majority opinion for West Virginia Board of Education v. Barnette, principles that would become lodestars in the American creed: “If there is any fixed star in our constitutional constellation, it is that no official, high or petty, can prescribe what shall be orthodox in politics, nationalism, religion, or other matters of opinion or force citizens to confess by word or act their faith therein. If there are any circumstances which permit an exception, they do not now occur to us.” Tragically, the proposed Amendment One seeks to violate those principles.

I have long objected to clergy serving as de facto government officials by officiating at weddings. I, for one, am no longer willing to do this. My ordination authorizes me to officiate at religious ceremonies and rites in the Episcopal Church. I am not an official of the North Carolina state government, or of any other state government. Solemnizing weddings when I served as a Church of England priest in the United Kingdom made sense to me. I was an official of the established church. That is not the case in the United States. The Constitution explicitly forbids establishing religion. Clergy in this country have no business officiating at weddings on behalf of the government.
That inappropriate role points to the dual nature of marriage and to why North Carolinians find themselves in this regrettable situation. Marriage is both a religious/spiritual covenant and a legal contract. I’m happy to bless a couple’s covenant to form a committed, loving, monogamous, and faithful partnership. Blessing is the work of the church and a proper task for the ordained.
The legal dimension of a marriage is the contract that binds two people together. The marriage contract stipulates property ownership, legal responsibility for one another’s healthcare, legal access to government benefits provided to a spouse, etc. The conflation of the marriage covenant and contract dates back to the time when women were chattel that passed from the woman’s father to the woman’s husband. Thankfully, those days are past; women are persons who theoretically possess the same legal rights as men (sadly, this ideal is not fully realized). As a citizen, I have opinions about what rights and responsibilities a marriage contract should provide. But there is no sound legal reason why the law should not extend equal protection to all couples, regardless of the partners’ gender.
Indeed, arguing that legalizing same sex marriage will undermine heterosexual marriage is foolish. Just the opposite is true. Promoting marriage – regardless of the partners’ gender – encourages people to honor their commitment to live in a loving, monogamous, and faithful contract. Additionally, research repeatedly has shown that having two parents in an intact relationship benefits the children.
I encourage you, if you are a North Carolina voter, to vote against Amendment One (cf. Pastors against Amendment One).

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