State must recognize committed same-sex couples
Jackson Citizen Patriot
With Valentine's Day right around the corner, our thoughts naturally go to the subject of love. Many loving couples will get engaged or married to celebrate their commitment. But there are a lot of loving couples in our community who cannot celebrate in this way because of our state's limitations on same-sex marriage.
Many of the same-sex couples that I know are in relationships that have lasted longer than my marriage. These couples are raising children. They own houses together; they are an asset to our community. They are in every significant way like my husband and me, except under the law.
The majority of Americans now believe in something we call "civil unions," and are willing to give same-sex couples the same rights that we give to heterosexual couples. For some, however, the sticking point comes with calling this "marriage." In many countries, civil marriage and religious marriage are separate. It's because of our combination of the two that this is such a contentious issue. For example, as a minister, I perform a state function when I sign marriage licenses. In many other countries, religious ceremonies have no legal function.
Civil marriage or civil union is a civil right. And if we gave the same rights to civil union that we give to civil marriage, there really wouldn't be a problem with calling it "union." But doing so is logistically impossible, with differing state and international laws. And these same-sex partnerships really are marriages in every meaningful way. The same-sex couples I know have marriages that are every bit as real, loving, committed and important as the marriages of the heterosexuals in our community. And there is in no way that these loving relationships threaten the institution of marriage. If marriage as an institution is threatened, it is by those who take it casually, which is done by heterosexuals all the time. None of the same-sex couples I know take the issue of marriage casually at all.
Religious marriage, on the other hand, is a sacrament of the church or other religious institution. Since we have separation of church and state, religious beliefs should have no bearing on civil marriage. People often mistakenly believe that if we legalize civil marriage for same-sex couples, then ministers who object will be forced to perform those marriages. This is simply not true. A minister can refuse to perform any marriage, for any reason, but particularly when he or she has religious objections. Several years ago, when I was a minister in Massachusetts, I signed a vow saying that I wouldn't sign any marriage licenses until the state allowed me to sign them for same-sex couples as well. Happily, I was able to sign some of those licenses before I left the state to come home to Michigan.
I would expect that if same-sex marriages were legalized, many ministers might similarly refuse to be agents of the state when they believe the state's actions are wrong. This is one of the privileges of freedom of religion, and I respect their right to not perform same-sex marriage. Likewise, I am proud to stand on the side of love on this issue and perform same-sex marriages in our community, whether the state recognizes them or not. Marriage is a bond of love, a sacred trust between two people. Any couple taking this vow seriously and able to make this commitment to each other deserves the legal benefits of marriage. As a community and state, we need to stand on the side of love.
— The Rev. Cynthia Landrum is minister of the Universalist Unitarian Church of East Liberty.