Okay, here's the dilemma:
How can we Americans fulfill our constitutional duties to treat
everyone equally under the law at the same time we allow everyone to act
on their own religious beliefs, some of which conflict with those
What I'm talking about is the question of gay marriage.
Constitutional guarantees of equality under the law, taken seriously,
suggest that gay marriage should be as legal as straight marriagebut
several Bible passages suggest gay marriage violates Divine Instruction.
So what do we do?
What we've been doing is yelling at each other in ways that don't
convince either side to back down.
But now comes a proposal that seems workable and fair to both
The proposer of the proposal is not a clergyman from the Church of
Divine Compromise. Nor is he a civil rights lawyer who has reached a new
level of Kindly Tolerance of Ecclesiastical Tradition.
He's a newspaper columnist.
Yes, he is. A newspaper columnist, one of the brothers. His name
is Bill Tammeus and he writes for the Kansas City Star. He's come up with
a great idea.
What we need, he wrote in a column last month, are two different
kinds of marriage: civil and sacred. Here's how he defines the two:
"Civil marriage is what happens when the government grants a
couple a license to be joined legally, thereby obtaining the rights, benefits,
privileges and responsibilities of matrimony. Sacred marriage is what
happens when a religious community blesses a couple's union."
Legalizing that distinction, he says, would allow government "for
reasons of equal protection of the law" to "grant civil marriage licenses
to same-sex couples as well as heterosexual couples
[but] it would not
obligate religious communities to bless gay unions. It simply would
extend the law's benefit to all couples, much as laws outlawing
discrimination extend protection to all races
Get that? If your church believes more strongly in Leviticus
("Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is abomination")
than it believes in the Constitution's first amendment ("Congress shall
make no law respecting an establishment of religion
.") then your church
doesn't have to acknowledge gay marriages.
Under the Tammeus proposal, gay marriage wouldn't desecrate Holy
Matrimony because it wouldn't pretend to be Holy Matrimony.
This doesn't mean that only gays could have civil marriages and
only straights could have sacred marriages. There are churches out there
that offer sacred marriages for gays, and there are certainly some
straights who would find civil marriage more to their taste than sacred
The Truth, Mainly
In the interest of full disclosure, I admit that I count myself
and my wife among the latter group. We got married 47 years ago in a
church that we haven't been back to in 47 years. We weren't particularly
looking for Holy Matrimony when we got married, but that seemed to be the
only kind of matrimony in town. Had there been a Dirty Rotten Secular
Humanist Matrimony Shop handy, we'd probably have gone there to get our
Apropos of nothing more than my pleasure in talking about our
offspring: our kids seemed to have the same notion: our older son got
married in a courtroom that was between trials, our daughter got married
in our back yard, and our younger son got married in Las Vegas.
"When are you two going to get married?" we used to ask him.
"When we find a place tawdry enough," he'd say.
Then one day during Spring Break, we got a call from Vegas.
"We found a place tawdry enough," he said. "If we'd had more
money, we could have hired an Elvis impersonator to sing at our wedding."
Made us wish we'd been there.
But I digress.
The problem with what we've got now is that for religious reasons,
gay partners are not allowed the same legal rights that straight partners
are given. I'm talking about what a story by Adam Haslett in the May 31
issue of New Yorker calls "a vast array of legal, financial, and medical
rights and benefits."
Say, for example, your partner is a citizen of another country.
If you're in a straight marriage, your partner can share your right to
live here. But if you're in a same-sex union, your partner is denied that
spousal right and runs the risk of deportation. That's an outrage.
Your church needn't recognize same-sex marriage, but your
And imagine: it took a Kansas City newspaper columnist with the
wisdom of Solomon to point that out.
Retired English Professor Leon Satterfield writes to salvage clarity
from his confusion. His column appears on alternate Mondays. His e-mail