Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Same Sex Marriage in Vermont

I am seeing a lot of discussion these days about Vermont's legalizing same-sex marriage. There are some good points to these debates, but my problem is that so many of the arguments rely on so-called "separation of church and state." Some claim that the "separation" disallows legislators from using any sense of morality based on their faith. The "separation of church and state" phrase is a metaphor Thomas Jefferson used to explain one part of the First Amendment. It was not intended to illustrate the whole amendment.

The University of Virginia has collected Jefferson's writings. In the section where Jefferson explains the need for the First Amendment you can find the phrase "freedom of religion" six times, but you will not find the phrase "separation of church and state" even once. (See this previous post.)

Our Founders did not intend to keep religious belief out of decision making. Our first Congress even opened their first official session with a 3-hour prayer. What was the point of praying if their faith would not have been appropriate as part of legislative discussion and process?

But back to Vermont. Consider the Vermont constitution, which drafted around the same time as the U.S. Constitution. It says in Section 9, "And each member [of the Legislature], before he takes his seat, shall make and subscribe the following declaration, viz: 'I do believe in one God, the Creator and Governor or the universe, the rewarder of the good and punisher of the wicked. And I do acknowledge the Scripture of the Old and New Testament to be given by divine inspiration, and own and profess the [Christian] religion. And no further or other religious test shall ever, hereafter, be required of any civil officer or magistrate in this State.'"

So shouldn't the arguments stay focused on some of the very logical points raised by both sides? And if a person is basing their opinion partly on their faith, why should that be inappropriate? The Constitution does not prohibit people from using their personal morality to make decisions. How else would they make many of the decisions we are faced with, which often involve moral issues?

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