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Can We Separate Church and State?

Holly Laird

Praise the Lord, same-sex marriage is finally allowed! In an historic decision on Tuesday, the Massachusetts Supreme Court voted 4-3 to legalize civil marriage between same-sex couples, becoming the first Supreme Court in the United States to do so. Vermont already has laws for same-sex “civil unions,” and California, Alaska, and Washington D.C. have official registries for same-sex couples.

I was ecstatic when I heard the news. It is morally wrong to deny gay couples the right to marry. I have heard opponents to gay marriage cite religious beliefs as reason not to legalize it, but when they bring forth that argument, I think to myself, “What has religion to do with it?”

Maybe my religious background is the source of my confusion. My family attended a local Episcopalian church every Sunday. Our congregation was made up of suburban, upper-middle class, white Pennsylvanians. I have reason to assume that the majority of the parishioners were as conservative as they come. But the teachings that I took from years and years of Sunday school were deeply entrenched in ideals of tolerance and acceptance. We hired female ministers, discouraged sending missionaries out of a desire to not enforce our religion too firmly, and we were generally a group very tolerant to differences.

Based on these beliefs, I have always abhorred limitations to the human rights of any group of people on the basic of racial, religious, gender, or sexual-orientation distinctions. Some people might call me a “bad Christian” for thinking so, but if their idea of being a good Christian means denying minorities their rights to be equal human beings, I will denounce their view of Christianity.

Even allowing for differences of religious beliefs, I honestly feel that this is a perfectly secular issue. Religious groups are free to deny their clergy same-sex marriage under God, Allah, or whatever deity they worship, But we have always heard the dictum “separation of church and state,” and I feet the full weight of its force here. Civil marriages are not designed to be witnessed by God. They are set up as a legal recognition of a couple’s union, and so religious arguments should not be considered as any kind of impediment to support of same-sex marriages. The Court recognized that, and cited a previous ruling with the argument, “Our obligation is to define the liberty of all, not set our own moral code.” (Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. vs. Casey, 1992)

The Court secured its decision with the full power of our state’s constitution. It declared, “that exclusion [of same-sex marriage] is incompatible with the constitutional principles of respect for individual autonomy and equality under the law.” I for one agree with the idea that every person is created equal. The Court also stated, “The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.” They knew how much power their words had when they were writing up their decision. It is a very bold statement, but it holds nothing save the truth.

I am overjoyed to find that I live in such a broad-minded Commonwealth. Although a heterosexual myself, I am greatly excited for the whole gay community. I know that this will be a difficult idea to spread. Our governor, Mitt Romney, has already stated his firm opposition, with the “3,000 years of recorded history” on his side. Attention Mr. Romney! Human slavery was around just as long. The length of time does not makes your argument any more valid.

No matter what happens next, we should all be glad that the first step towards equality of sexual orientation has been taken, and the final goal no longer seems so far away.

Holly Laird is a member of the class of 2007.