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Saturday, February 12, 2011

Confusing Marriage, Matrimony Muddles Same-Sex Debate

Letter Published in the Feb. 17 Edition of Howard County Times:

I want to thank Doug Miller’s support for marriage equality and join in his well-deserved praise for the courage exhibited by Sen. Allan H. Kittleman as he declared that same-sex couples should be treated equal to those of opposite-sex married couples ( “Kittleman isn’t on the wrong side of the aisle, but on the right side of history,” February 10).

Equality is one of the cornerstones of our nation (‘all men are created equal’); it is not a Republican or Democratic concept, but sadly with respect to marriage for same-sex couples, it largely is. Sen. Kittleman clearly put his principles and his natural instincts for civil rights before party politics.

However I disagree with Mr. Miller’s assertion that “marriage itself is an institution of religion, an article of faith. As such, it should be hands-off as far as the government is concerned.” I believe that many opponents of marriage equality, and even supporters such as Mr. Miller and Sen. Kittleman conflate the terms “marriage” and “matrimony.”

The fact is that marriage is sanctioned by government by the execution of a signed marriage license. The benefits, rights and responsibilities conferred upon married couples stem from the state government. What needs to be acknowledged is that a significant number of people choose to marry in courthouses, town clerk’s offices and at city halls whose ceremonies are officiated by a secular justice of the peace in most of these cases.

Religious institutions—churches, synagogues and mosques—also conduct these ceremonies, but the term used for the faith-based services should be matrimony, not marriage. For example, atheists are permitted to marry, and accordingly, are recognized by society and the state government as married even though the union wasn’t blessed and officiated by a member of the clergy.

Those advocating for marriage for same-sex couples support a bill currently being considered in the Maryland legislature that provides the right for religious institutions to refuse to marry same-sex couples. What marriage equality advocates are seeking is civil marriage—a standing whereby society recognizes the couple as married and one which entitles the couples to the benefits and rights provided by the state that opposite-sex married couples routinely receive.

As Sen. Kittleman said, “Our government is not a theocracy.” And that is my point.

Steve Charing

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