What gives us the right to vote on love?
In eight days the state of Minnesota will vote on a hurtful piece of proposed legislation that would enthrone bigotry into the state constitution. According to a July 14, 2011, article in the Star Tribune ("Minnesota sees 50% rise in number of gay couples"), there were 13,718 same-sex couples in Minnesota in 2010, or about 1% of the state's population, about double what it was in the year 2000. And of course, there are many more people than that who are gay and lesbian in our state who are not coupled yet, but are doing what many other single people do: date a lot in their life effort to find a mate.
And yet, here we are as a state, on the brink of taking a vote to legislate who we will allow to legally love another person.
Here's a "thought experiment" I'm borrowing from my colleague Ted Tollefson, and then expanding: imagine one day getting a notice in the mail that all your neighbors were going to get together to vote on whether or not to invalidate your marriage. Now imagine that you went to every neighbor to plead your case about why you thought and felt your marriage was valid. Now imagine that they held the vote, and that they voted to invalidate your marriage...and that their vote was legally binding. Suddenly you and your spouse no longer had access to one another's health care, pension plans, the legal right to make decisions or visit your beloved if they were sick in the hospital, and you no longer had the right to make any decisions about your beloved if they died, or about their will.
What would you do?
Can you imagine the indignation you might feel? The anger? Or, perhaps as time went on and you realized that if people can invalidate your marriage that they could also take one more small step to invalidate your humanity, can you imagine the fear you might feel?
If you took this thought experiment even halfway seriously and imagined what it would be like to have your neighbors invalidate your marriage, and realized how ridiculous it would be to have other people you don't even know vote on your marriage - then what gives us the right, and the presumption, to vote on someone else's love?
Because this November, this is what we are voting on: Love.
Our Declaration of Independence does not say that we have the right to love, but it does declare that we have the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. And all jokes aside, marriage is one of those things in life to which we aspire will help provide happiness in our lives. One of the happiest times of our lives occurs when we are free to choose and partner with someone we love.
I've heard some people who are either fear-mongering or simply misguided say things like, "If we allow gay marriage, then you are forcing your religious views on us." This is just an amazing series of mental gymnastics.
First, same-sex marriage is already outlawed in the state of Minnesota. There are already at least 515 laws in Minnesota that discriminate against same-sex couples (see Project 515 for more info), and in 1971, in a state court case called "Baker v. Nelson," the Minnesota Supreme Court held that the Minnesota Statutes prohibited marriage between same-sex couples. So if, in fact, we do vote down this hurtful proposed marriage amendment, it will not allow same-sex marriage in Minnesota. In fact, unfortunately, legally it will change absolutely nothing in the state of Minnesota. It will definitely give us a tremendous boost on top of our efforts so far to defeat this amendment, but it will do nothing legally in Minnesota.
Second, since when does allowing a freedom impinge on your religious rights? I love this quote I recently discovered from the Reverend Susan Russell, the Assistant Priest at All Saints Episcopal Church in Pasadena, California: "Religious persecution is when you're prevented from exercising your beliefs; not when you're prevented from imposing your beliefs."
If you are against gay marriage, then don't have one. If your church does not condone gay marriage, then enshrine it in your church policies and practices not to perform same-sex weddings. End of story.
It's like the law allowing anyone over 18 to vote (well, that's now up for grabs too, but let's just go with this for the sake of argument). If you are over 18 and you don't want to vote, then don't vote. But if you are over 18 and want to vote, then you are allowed to. End of story.
I am proud to say that we in Unitarian Universalism have been performing ceremonies of union and same-sex weddings since the 1970s. My congregation and I are opposed to the proposed marriage amendment. Ultimately, though, what I'd love to see is that the state get out of the marriage business altogether. The state does not invest me with the authority to marry two people. My congregation invests me with that authority. The couple invests me with that authority. God, by whatever name God is known, invests me with that authority.
So ultimately, here's what I propose: all the state needs to do is to recognize partnerships. Civil unions. That way, no matter if you're a same-sex couple, a common-law couple, or an opposite sex couple, you will have all the legal rights you need to be in a partnership. Then let the individual religions decide whether or not to provide a wedding. That way, Catholics and a wide variety of conservative religions could refuse to perform same-sex weddings, as is their right. And at the same time, liberal religionists and progressives like us would be happy to provide a joyful wedding ceremony celebrating the love two people share and express for each other. As is our right.