Eleven years before Obergefell v. Hodges (2015), the case in which the Supreme Court sanctioned same-sex marriage, my students at Miami University reached the exact conclusions it took the U.S. Senate another seven years after Obergfell to adopt.
In 2004, I taught a summer session of my “Imagination and Entrepreneurship” course which included the following exercise based on the false concept “there are two sides to every story.” There are always more than two sides. To prove this, I asked the students to explore a controversial topic and identify the extreme positions, i.e., the two sides. Their choice? Same-sex marriage which was viewed on one extreme as an abomination in the eyes of the Lord, and on the other, an unalienable right to the pursuit of happiness delineated in the Declaration of Independence. I then told them they should not seek a compromise on that continuum. Instead, they should look for answers ‘outside the line.’
If you think all universities are bastions of liberal dogma, you do not know Miami University. The student population is 72 percent white and they come from households with an average annual income of over $200,000. Sixty-two percent of the students are Ohio residents, a state we know from the recent mid-terms is ruby red. Not surprisingly for a school with these demographics, College Values Online ranks Miami as the 11th most conservative university in the United States.
In that environment, I feared our discussion of marriage equality would be a dogfight. Not even close. As is so often the case, the critical point came when a student asked an important question. What is the purpose of a marriage license? A not unexpected response came from class members I knew to be actively engaged in religion-based student organizations. They viewed government sanction of a marriage secondary to that of God’s. Which led to the suggestion it was not about the license but the fee to obtain the license. In other words, this was just one more way for local governments to raise revenue by taxing the formation of a household.
Yet, they pointed out lots of non-married couples form households. College students live together in off-campus rental housing. Co-workers form households to share the cost of shelter in cities where the sale price or rental fees are beyond the reach of many who work there. Why shouldn’t they be taxed as well? Which brings me to the title of this post. The tax was only applied to those household occupants the government assumed were having intercourse. Without stating the obvious, you can see where this is going. Government regulation of relationships makes no sense.
And that is EXACTLY what the Senate compromise on an amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act proposes, an amendment that garnered the bipartisan support of 62 senators including 12 Republicans. An amendment based on the same conclusion reached by my students 18 years earlier. The First Amendment prohibits Congress from mandating that any sectarian institution which opposes marriage other than that between a man and a woman must conduct a union for a same-sex couple. But those who had their marriage ratified by either a civil or religious authority must be honored nationwide. The government should keep it nose out of the marital business.
I know some may be offended by the fact the revised bill codifies the right to religious discrimination. But that has always been the case. Most orthodox rabbis will not officiate in an interfaith marriage. Catholic priests will not bless a second marriage unless the first has been annulled. And somehow there are still interfaith unions and second Catholic weddings. In other words, “forum shopping” is not reserved for those in search of a sympathic judge to hear their case.
My wife occasionally reminds me how often, as an agnostic, I cite scripture to make my point. And I am sure she will remind me again when I point out, the Senate amendment to the Respect for Marriage Act is just one more example of the Biblical underpinning in Matthew 22:21 that justifies the separation of church and state. “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” Perhaps, the spouses of the 27 GOP senators who voted against the amendment need to remind them to open both their Bibles and the pocket-sized copies of the U.S. Constitution they always carry with them.
For what it’s worth.