Granted, this was in the works prior to last Thursday’s Supreme Court decision in Lawrence v. Texas, but it’s picking up some new steam with Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist’s statement yesterday on ABC’s This Week. As reported in The Washington Post, Frist said that he supports a proposed constitutional amendment to ban gay marriages, introduced May 22 by Rep. Marilyn N. Musgrave (R-Colo.) and referred to the House Judiciary subcommittee on the Constitution last Wednesday, one day before the Supreme Court decision.
One of the more disturbing elements of this revelation is in Frist’s statement that “I very much feel that marriage is a sacrament, and that sacrament should extend and can extend to that legal entity of a union between–what is traditionally in our Western values has been defined–as between a man and a woman. So I would support the amendment.” Sacrament is defined by the American Heritage Dictionary as:
1. Christianity A rite believed to be a means of or visible form of grace, especially: a. In the Eastern, Roman Catholic, and some other Western Christian churches, any of the traditional seven rites that were instituted by Jesus and recorded in the New Testament and that confer sanctifying grace. b. In most other Western Christian churches, the two rites, Baptism and the Eucharist, that were instituted by Jesus to confer sanctifying grace.
2. A religious rite similar to a Christian sacrament, as in character or meaning.
If marriage is purely a sacrament, then it has no place in the law of this country; I suspect that laws designed to define baptism or the Eucharist would clearly be seen as an unconstitutional violation of the First Amendment. Religious conservatives shouldn’t be allowed to have it both ways, then: either marriage is a religious sacrament, in which case it shouldn’t be legislated by the state, nor should it confer any special benefits by the state to the parties married. If it is to confer special legal and civil benefits, however, then it should be divorced from its religious, sacramental underpinnings, and should be available to all citizens, regardless of the sex of the parties involved.
We need a clearer demarcation between the legal union of two people acknowledged and encouraged–through the range of legal benefits conferred–by the state, and the religious recognition of a commitment between two people; we probably shouldn’t use the term “marriage” for both. Personally, I’d prefer if the state only recognized “civil unions” or “domestic partnerships” for all, heterosexual as well as homosexual, reserving the word “marriage” purely for religious ceremonies, which in and of itself would confer no special legal privileges.
The Post article also notes that “Frist said the Supreme Court’s decision last week on gay sex threatens to make the home a place where criminality is condoned.” So, despite the Supreme Court’s recognition that gay sex is, in fact, not a criminal act, the Majority Leader of our Senate continues to equate the two. And this man, someone who so clearly does not understand the concept of “equal justice, for all,” who named Rick Santorum as a “man of caring, compassion and tolerance,” is the person leading our legislative branch. Thank goodness he’s no longer practicing medicine, at least.