As the controversy surrounding Chick-fil-A owner Dan Cathy’s disparaging comments about gay people rages on, it is time for Americans to revisit the constitutional context under which the issue of same-sex marriage falls. After all, the fact that such backlash and social polarization could be triggered by the remarks of a man who serves fast food is slightly absurd. Conservative and liberal-minded individuals alike spew their emotional and value-based vitriol with little or no appeal to facts or reason. It is time for this tireless and futile debate to stop.
It is time for partisanship, religion, and values to be put aside, and for the American public to finally view the issue of same-sex marriage through the lens of the United States Constitution. If this is done properly, American citizens will no doubt begin to perceive same-sex marriage as a “non-issue” in the United States.
There is an apparent consensus among many Americans that the founding fathers crafted the document upon primarily Christian values, and thus the divide between church and the state is not entirely straightforward. This could not be further from the truth. Perhaps the best evidence of this is found in the fact that the Constitution makes no single reference to God. It does, however, contain exactly two clauses addressing the role of religion in the state. The first of these, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion,” ensures that the state will never recognize an official religion and is accordingly dubbed the Establishment Clause. Such rhetoric effectively created an insurmountable schism between religion and the government by ensuring that legislation would never favor a particular religion, fundamentally forcing legislators to abandon any sort of religious ideology or values in their policy output. The second, “or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” quite simply guarantees that individuals are at liberty to hold and practice any religious ideologies or values of their choice, free from persecution or regulation. It has less-than-cleverly been christened the Free Exercise Clause. In short, these “religion clauses” maintain that the state must be impartial in its legislation and rulings toward all religions, while not prohibiting any individual from freely performing his or her respective religious practices. After all, had the Constitution been crafted upon Christian values, would it not ironically be violating these two clauses? The founding fathers left no doubt in their intention to protect the rights of any minority religious group, should the majority attempt to oppress their non-traditional beliefs.
Therefore, how does the controversial issue of same-sex marriage play into these clear-cut limitations on the power of the federal government? It is really quite simple, given that the Constitution is applied without the strong emotional bias bred from ideological values. The document says absolutely nothing regarding the “traditional values” or “sanctity of marriage” that those who oppose same-sex marriage preach. In fact, it fails to define marriage altogether. The sole basis by which opponents of same-sex marriage make their claims is that of a Judeo-Christian morality stemming from the Bible. That is not to say, however, that there is anything wrong with this set of beliefs. The Christian faith can, in fact, be an immeasurable force for good if properly applied and practiced. Hence, Christians holding the biblical view of marriage should rightly be proud of their religious values and should certainly live their life in accord with the biblical interpretation of marriage. Furthermore, it should not be seen as problematic to elect not to live by the standards set forth in the Bible. If individuals decide that the ideals of the Bible are not for them, or that they find the ideals and morals of some other religion more appealing, they should unashamedly set their value system accordingly and live their life in harmony with such a morality.
The true problem is that debates involving morality and values are futile in this instance. The Establishment Clause reminds us that the founding fathers did not intend for any one religious ideology to supersede another; hence, they effectively limited the state from doing so. However, the next two-hundred years saw Conservative Christians become such a majority in the United States that their morality and values not only became a social norm, but were even written into law. Unfortunately, such laws cannot be deemed “constitutional” when they infringe on the religious freedom of others. It is important to remember that the Establishment and Free Exercise Clauses are a part of the Bill of Rights, an immediate supplement to the Constitution intended guarantee citizens (minorities in particular) freedom from the “tyranny of the majority” in a democracy. Consequently, morality and norms cannot be determinants in the debate on the legalization of same-sex marriage lest minorities be unwillingly subject to the religious beliefs of the majority. Indeed, Americans must disregard ideology and view the debate exclusively in light of its constitutional context.
Thus, when ideology and morality are removed from the debate, the question of same-sex marriage becomes far simpler, essentially a “non-issue.” It is important to remember that one’s choice not to follow a particular religion or ascribe to a particular set of beliefs is their exercising of their freedom of religion. Therefore, freedom of religion equates to freedom from religion. The implications are clear: By legislating and enforcing a law based on Christian values, the state is not only establishing a religion, but also preventing the free exercise of religion of its citizens. If a person chooses to apply the liberties bestowed upon them in the Free Exercise clause by electing not to follow the Christian Faith, yet are subject to its standards and values of marriage, they cannot fully exercise their Constitutional freedom. The state has no doubt overstepped its boundaries in this case by failing to guarantee the civil liberties provided to its citizens in the Bill of Rights. One can interject any sort of political ideology or religious value into the debate, but such an action would be senseless. Same-sex marriage is simply a non-issue when viewed exclusively through the lens of the United States Constitution. This is a wholly non-partisan claim free from any sort of ideological or religious bias; it is a simple application of the Constitution.
This is not to trivialize the often fervent values held in regard to this issue. Although religious and social values must be taken out of the debate from a political standpoint, they should absolutely be embraced from a personal perspective. Morality and values are a wholly integral part of everyday American life. To say that they cannot be used to push forward one’s political agenda is not to say that the public in general should not hold values on the institution of marriage. In fact, quite the opposite is true. Christian individuals should absolutely exercise their constitutional freedoms by proudly applying the biblical interpretation of marriage between “one man and one woman” to themselves, their family, their church, and any other aspect of their own life.
However, it is fairly ludicrous to expect an entire nation to be lawfully bound to Christian values when the Constitution puts forward such a clear-cut understanding of the church’s role in the state. Hence, ideologies and values must be set aside in order to reach a truly non-partisan and nondiscriminatory conclusion to the debate on the legalization of same-sex marriage. If this is done, the American public will no doubt perceive the debate as a “non-issue.”