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October 07, 2008

Amendment 2 vs. Religious Liberty?

Today I stumbled across the website for the group Florida Clergy for Fairness.  The group claims to be a coalition of "religious leaders from a broad spectrum of faith traditions."  How true that statement is, or how many of them there are, I don't know.  But I found their position statement interesting.

The statement echoes a concern voiced yesterday in a comment to an post on the subject.  The concern is that it is not government's place to define marriage for us and that to do so restricts our religious liberty.  We should get to choose who to marry, right?  As the position statement explains, "It is surely not the government’s role to prefer one religious definition of marriage over another, much less to codify such a preference in the Florida Constitution."

I'd suggest that the "religious liberty" argument is misplaced. The Amendment, if passed, will not prevent anyone from participating in any type of religious ceremony.  Even under the Amendment, homosexual couples can hold ceremonies.  They can even call them "wedding ceremonies."  They can make whatever commitments to each other they like, they can put those commitments into a legal structure.  They can tell their family, friends and loved ones that they are married.  The Amendment does not change that.  It merely solidifies that the State of Florida will only treat one form of union as marriage, but does not require anyone else to behave any differently.

As for the allegation that it is not the role of government to define marriage, I'd suggest that the government must define marriage.  In fact, it does so already.  Why?  Because government issues benefits and requirements to married couples to encourage and stabilize marriage.  We can debate whether or not government should do this, but currently it does.  As a result, when government attempts to issue those benefits and impose those requirements for married couples, it must identify those couples.  Who is married?  Who can be married?  We need a definition.

Further, we need a definition solidified in the state constitution because, as we have seen across the country and even in our own state, activist judges have sought to impose their own definitions and preferences over those contained in state law.  The Amendment will place this definition beyond the reach of judicial tyranny.

To argue that it is not the place of government to define marriage, to identify those to whom government issues certain benefits and requirements, is silly.  We can and should debate whether those benefits of marriage should be extended to homosexual couples, but arguments like this one add nothing to that discussion.

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