Magician Penn Jillette has a funny story that I’ll paraphrase for the sake of brevity.
A friend who bought an old, weighty Mason’s ring in a thrift store is often asked whether he is a Freemason. Because he isn’t a member of the Masonic order, he’s frequently told by those who are that he cannot wear the ring. “Of course I can,” Jillette tells the story. “I’m not a Mason, so your rule doesn’t apply to me.”
The (possibly apocryphal) anecdote — which he tells much better — was on my mind this week as same-sex marriage was legalized from sea to shining sea by the U.S. Supreme Court.
As an ally of the gay community, I was pleasantly surprised to see how many folks from all across our coverage areas spoke up in favor of the ruling on Facebook. There were those, however, who took great umbrage.
I don’t want to marginalize how those people feel. Change can be terrifying.
However, the religious outcry against gay marriage does not make any sense to me for the same reason Jillette’s friend can wear a Mason’s ring.
One of the core tenets of American democracy is that you’re free to believe what you want so long as it does not tread on anyone else. There is an eternal balancing act across the gray areas of the Constitution but this never changes: Religious views have nothing to do with the law. “Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” or in this case, “Render unto Washington what is Washington’s” should be our national motto.
In one of the most comically overstated responses to the court’s decision that I saw, a cousin I love very much said Friday that she felt “like one of the lion pride when Scar took rule of the land in ‘The Lion King’ movie” because American marriage has been expanded to include more than just the Christian definition. She is very much in favor of limiting the rings others can wear because of her club’s rules.
It is a strange reaction. Her marriage is no worse for wear, her love for her husband no different, her devotion to her God no less than it was Thursday. The way that other people’s love is recognized by the state has no real impact on the relationships of the devout. Yet she numbers among those who think fire and brimstone judgment is on its way.
She isn’t alone.
Within minutes of the ruling Friday, my inbox started to buckle under the weight of protest: “The Supreme Court can no more repeal the laws of nature and nature’s God on marriage than it can the law of gravity,” was the statement from Republican presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee, his words echoed down the line by politicians on the right.
Forget for a moment that “traditional” biblical marriage was often polygamous and certainly not monogamous. Forget that for Abraham, Jacob, David, and Solomon marriage meant concubines (official sex partners for siring children) as well as wives. Let’s assume for the sake of argument that binary marriage is the only bibical model.
If the faithful want to continue to practice man-woman marriage exclusively, it’s their right. Be pure in the eyes of God. Find your peace.
But understand laws are made for Americans, not just Christian Americans or Islamic Americans or Jewish Americans.
When it comes to rings, gay, lesbian, transgender, queer, and other heretofore maligned groups have equal civil rights under the Fourteenth Amendment.