Marriage Vow

Don't Let Falwell And Company Amend The Constitution

Religious Right organizations apparently don't think much of the U.S. Constitution.

They keep proposing amendments to that venerable document. Over the years, Religious Right groups have advocated amendments allowing state-sponsored prayer in public schools, banning abortion and permitting government bodies to display sectarian symbols.

In fact, it seems that every time a court issues a ruling the Religious Right doesn't like, it begins agitating, and soon its congressional allies have put forth another constitutional amendment.

The latest amendment to come down the pike would ban same-sex marriage. This became the Religious Right's number one cause after the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court ruled last November that the state's ban on same-sex marriages violates the Massachusetts Constitution.

People can and do disagree about the subject of same-sex marriage. But there should be no disagreement about amending the Constitution to ban same-sex marriage. It's a bad idea that should never see the light of day.

Constitutional amendments should always be subjected to a high degree of scrutiny. The Constitution is our founding document; the Bill of Rights is our guarantee of freedom. We should not alter these documents on a whim.

The Federal Marriage Amendment is an especially bad idea because it would reduce our freedoms, not expand them, and allow the government to pick and choose among competing religious doctrines. Some religious groups recognize same-sex marriage, and some do not. Why should the perspective of certain religious groups be elevated over others and enshrined in the Constitution?

At the end of the day, the drive for the marriage amendment represents nothing less than an effort by large and powerful religious movements to make their traditions' views on marriage the law for all to follow.

Leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC), the nation's largest Protestant group, have joined forces with other conservative denominations and the hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to demand the amendment. James Dobson, Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell and their Religious Right cohorts back the SBC and the bishops.

The American people would not likely tolerate meddling by these groups in their personal affairs. After all, they have rejected it in the past. In previous eras, powerful religious groups sought to restrict access to certain books, ban certain movies and even deny adults access to birth control. The American people shook off this oppression. Why would we resurrect it today by writing the Religious Right's view of marriage into the Constitution?

And make no mistake, the amendment drive is really a religious crusade. It was conceived by ultra-conservative religious groups, promoted by them and bankrolled by them.

Pro-amendment groups have great difficulty advancing a credible non-religious argument for their cause. If you press them enough, their arguments always come down to a variation of this theme: Same-sex marriage must be stopped because it is against their interpretation of the Bible or some church's claim of revealed teachings.

Joel Belz, publisher of the evangelical magazine World, was honest enough to admit this recently. Belz wrote, "We may not like to admit it, but when you leave God's design out of the argument, there's really no reason any longer to limit marriage to a man and a woman."

In a country that is officially secular and where separation of church and state is the law of the land, demands to alter the Constitution based on the interpretation of holy books or church doctrine simply do not pass muster. They must be rejected.

The non-religious arguments amendment backers have put forth are weak, and that's being charitable. For example, they assert that an amendment is needed because houses of worship might be forced to perform same-sex marriages.

The contention collapses when subjected to even a moment's thought. The First Amendment gives every church the right to put whatever theological conditions it wants on wedding ceremonies. Religious leaders can refuse to marry couples outside the faith, require couples to raise children in the faith or refuse to perform a wedding if one partner has been previously married, to name just a few examples. No court anywhere in the country has ever ruled that churches do not have this absolute right.

Nor is the amendment needed to bar polygamy. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 125 years ago that polygamy is a violation of fundamental human rights. The oppression of women spawned by polygamy, courts have ruled, is a compelling reason to ban the practice.

Similarly, the state has a valid interest in ensuring that someone does not marry a sibling or an animal. The fact that Religious Right propagandists even make such absurd arguments underscores the weakness of their position.

The bottom line here is simple: The American people are being asked to alter the Bill of Rights to achieve one of the political goals of TV preachers and their ecclesiastical allies. That should give pause to everyone who loves liberty. If they win here, what will the next demand be?

It is better not to find out. Americans who value our freedoms and the religious liberty enshrined in the Bill of Rights should rise up and demand that our legislators slam the door on this latest Religious Right power grab.