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Milford Beacon
  • Mark L. Hopkins: Can the government define marriage?

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  • Homosexuality is one of the real moral issues of our time. For the most part, issues related to sex between consenting adults are judged by the courts to be private matters left to the individual. In recent years, our government has dealt with the military’s “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” policy, and today the newspapers are full of the gay marriage issue. Comparatively, the military policy may have had an easy resolution, but the issue of gay marriage and its recognition state to state and by the federal government may be impossible.
    To most of us marriage is a religious ceremony where God unites a man and a woman in holy matrimony. Many believe what seems obvious, that marriage is a union between a man and a woman. The wording in the religious ceremony concludes, “What God has joined together, let no man put asunder.”
    The government, however, cannot deal with marriage as a religious issue. The first amendment to the Constitution prohibits such involvement. It says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”
    At the same time, the Supreme Court of the United States has ruled many times that individuals have the right to enter into contracts “on terms of their own choosing.”
    Having been prohibited from involvement in religious related activities, the government must view marriage as a contractual process between two individuals. You secure a license, let an official of the government proclaim you married, register the license with the county clerk, and you are married in the eyes of the government. Ministers ordained by a church are authorized by the government to proclaim a couple married and to register the license. Marriage, the family unit, children and all that is a part of the union involves regulation, taxation, protection of minor children, etc. In short, the government views the marriage agreement the only way it can, as a contract.
    To the government, the issue of same-sex marriage seems to defy resolution. How can the government enforce the equality provisions of our Constitution and, at the same time, prohibit any individual from taking advantage of the right to enter into a contract? In short, how can the government prohibit consenting adults from becoming legally contracted/married?
    Thus, in one of the major moral issues of our time the government is in a catch-22 situation. They can’t become involved in the religious event and they can’t prohibit the enactment of a legal contract.
    Churches may, or may not, recognize same-sex marriages. The government may not interfere. The government, with its constitutional limitations, can’t solve this moral dilemma for us. Like so many other issues we have faced before, it will require a personal, not a governmental, resolution.
    Dr. Mark L. Hopkins writes for More Content Now and Scripps Newspapers. He is past president of colleges and universities in four states and currently serves as executive director of a higher-education consulting service. Contact him at presnet@presnet.net.

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