California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum that amended that state’s Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman, has been overturned by a federal appeals panel in San Francisco. This is clearly a win for equal human rights in that state, and for the “human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” as U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.
Overturning Prop 8 is also a win for the sanctity of marriage equality. “Sanctity of marriage,” of course, is the language that religious and political conservatives often use against the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender Americans should have marriage equality. For example, the “Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment” of 2006, also known as “Amendment 774, is an amendment to the Alabama Constitution that makes it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. The language of the constitutional amendment actually uses the word “sacred” as it states that marriage is “a sacred covenant.” To me, this seems extraordinary language for a state constitution as it connects a state’s civil action in marriage and the sacred, that is, having to do with the divine. Such language, in my view, has no place in an American state constitution.
But I am wholly and completely persuaded that standing up for equality in marriage for LGBT people is a holy act, an act that is worthy of reverence. Sanctity in general means being in a state of being holy, and if there were ever an institution where holiness should apply, it is the right to be married to the person you love. To deny people the right to marry the person they love is a cruel act, a profane act, an act that is dead to the call of soul to soul, heart to heart and body to body that so characterizes marriage at its best.
Fewer and fewer young people are getting married, and I believe that the denial of full marriage equality to all Americans is a factor in this. How can the “millennial generation,” a generation that is so strikingly supportive of marriage equality, believe that marriage is somehow special when their LGBT friends are denied this legal, and often where they might wish, religious union? I know young heterosexual couples who tell me they have chosen not to marry until their gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender friends can get married too. I think theirs is a principled position, but it also relegates legal marriage to the “optional” category, instead of a way we make a strong commitment to one another in relationship. Thus, when some are denied the right to legally marry for no reason other than their sexual orientation, it tarnishes the whole institution of marriage.
I therefore believe overturning Prop 8 is a win for the holiness of marriage. Marriage at its best is a sacred calling to relationship. Sanctity in marriage is not handed to you as a prize because you happen to be heterosexual and can be legally married. Instead, marriage is an equal civil right as well as something that two people achieve over their lives as they live into a commitment to each other’s well-being.
The “sanctity of marriage equality” is a practical holiness, a lived holiness. I am moved to tears when I see LGBT couples celebrating this wonderful decision to overturn Proposition 8 in California. These couples have struggled so long, and fought so hard to be married. If the struggle for equality for all people, including the right to be married, is not a primary way we define ‘related to the divine,’ then I don’t know what is.