The first amendment to our Constitution guarantees the right to religious freedom. It was a fundamental principle of the founding fathers that the government would not interfere in any way with the religious practice of any citizen, and, conversely, narrow religious precepts should not dictate civil law. That is, the government would not meddle into religious affairs, which were regarded as a matter of conscience. This is the doctrine loosely referred to as the “separation of church and state.”
In passing the Defense of Marriage Act fifteen years ago the Congress ignored this doctrine. While I would not want to argue that same-sex marriage is a matter of religious freedom, the notion that marriage is only lawful between a man and a women is clearly a religious principle based on a narrow reading of selected passages from the Bible. There can be no philosophical or ethical grounds for such a law. Ethics recognizes the personhood of all rational beings whatever, and the notion that a man cannot marry another man or a woman marry another woman does not in any way violate the principle of respect for persons, fairness, or justice — the three ethical principles that hold sway in ethics and all major religions as well. In fact, the opposite is the case: to deny the right of a person to marry another of the same sex is to deny that person the right to self-determination, a right that is fundamental for every moral person. It would seem, then, that the law in question transgresses the church/state line. As Jefferson noted, the only authority the state has, properly speaking, is to protect us from one another — in his words, “the legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others.” It cannot be said that single-sex marriage injures anyone.
The Senate Judiciary Committee recently approved a measure to repeal the D.O.M.A. It is not likely the move will make its way through the Senate, much less the House of Representatives — given the fact that the Republicans are solidly behind the D.O.M.A. right down the line. What this means, of course, is that the Republicans in this case are defending a law that clearly flies in the face of the Constitution and the principles that the founders held dear. This is party politics at its worst, politics that are so much in play these days that they threaten to bring government to a standstill. To quote Jefferson again, “If I could not go to heaven but with a party, I would not go there at all.” He knew how party loyalties could lead us away from considerations of what he called “the General Welfare.” I doubt that he realized how they could cripple the nation he loved so much and fought so hard to protect.