As the Supreme Court takes up the matter of marriage apartheid — an institution of forcible segregation and exclusion aimed at same-sex couples and codified in state laws which defy both the Constitution's "full faith and credit" clause and its 14th Amendment's "equal protection" clause — its supporters once again rally to the banners of family and marriage, feigning support for the very institutions they assail.
"We will not obey!" thunder headlines covering their latest barrage, an open letter signed by numerous American religious leaders. But those headlines lie. The actual content of the letter consists not of a refusal to obey others, but of a demand that others be made to obey them. They want their own religious beliefs to remain codified in law at the expense of all whose beliefs differ.
They call for this establishment of (their) religion, naturally, in the name of "religious freedom." It seems there's no concept the anti-marriage, anti-family bigots aren't willing to turn on its head.
There's certainly a religious freedom issue at stake here, but the opponents of same-sex marriage are opponents, not supporters, of religious freedom. For example, until it was struck down, Missouri's anti-marriage law (passed in 2004 with strong support from this same crowd) provided for a jail sentence of 10 days and a $500 fine against clergy who officiated at unapproved religious ceremonies — "unlicensed" same-sex weddings.
Are the opponents of marriage and family sinned against as well as sinning? Certainly. They don't believe they should be enslaved to bake cakes (or pizzas) and so forth for couples and families of whom they religiously disapprove. I agree. They shouldn't. But then, the anti-marriage bigots and the pro-slavery bigots are peas in a pod. They're both fighting for control of others, not for the freedom of all.
The solution to this whole set of problems is simple: Just as we've tried to separate church and state, let's separate marriage and state! If that's not feasible in its entirety, then let's do so to the greatest degree possible.
Instead of government-approved, "licensed" marriages, let the civil form of marriage be by contract. The terms of those contracts can be whatever the parties negotiate. Although I suspect most of them would tend toward the current norms, there's no call to require that. Different strokes for different folks. The only necessary state involvement, then, would be adjudication of contractual disputes (if even that — the contracts could specify private arbitration).
As for those of particular religious persuasions, let them and their churches celebrate whatever weddings and recognize whatever marriages they choose, and not others (including in their commercial relations). This is the only right which they might reasonably demand others respect.
Thomas L. Knapp is director and senior news analyst at the William Lloyd Garrison Center for Libertarian Advocacy Journalism (thegarrisoncenter.org).