Very likely in a few short weeks South Carolina will join about 30 other states that have ended marriage discrimination against same sex couples. This post will address the concerns of those who feel that same sex marriage is an infringement on their religious freedoms.
On Thursday, October 9, 2014 West Virginia announced it would no longer defend it’s ban on same sex marriages. On Friday October 10, 2014 a Federal Judge in Asheville, NC struck down the North Carolina ban on same sex marriages. Both North Carolina and West Virginia are part of the US Court of Appeals for the 4th circuit which had previously struck down a Virginia same sex marriage ban. South Carolina is also under the jurisdiction of the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.
I wrote about this issue after the 4th Circuit struck down the Virginia same sex marriage ban. Soon thereafter I received several responses from people stating that our nation was founded on “God’s Law” and that same sex marriage is prohibited by “God’s Law”.
The United States is governed by a Constitution that was drafted and agreed to by the founders of our nation. Our Constitution is a set of rules that provides a legal framework for how we have agreed to manage our affairs. These rules are clearly delineated in 7 Articles and 27 Amendments. Nowhere does our Constitution provide a mechanism for the application of “God’s Law”.
This means that the United States Constitution is a secular document. The wonderful part of having a secular Constitution is that every citizen of the United States is free to conduct their lives according to their own particular religious faith. If a person believes that “God’s Law” prohibits same sex marriage, then they should not marry a person of the same sex.
On the other hand, a theocracy is a form of government in which a deity is officially recognized as the civil Ruler and official policy is governed by officials regarded as divinely guided, or is pursuant to the doctrine of a particular religion or religious group. A theocracy is therefore a government that is subject to “God’s Law”.
We need only look to countries like Saudi Arabia and Pakistan for models of theocracies. They are not places any of us would ever want to live.
In the secular United States a marriage is a legal process conducted by the government that confers upon a couple certain legal rights and responsibilities. A church can not marry people, they only get to perform a ceremony. In fact, a church wedding is not required to have a valid and legal marriage.
To protect a person’s right to live according to “God’s Law”, our secular Constitution guarantees every person “equal protection of law”. This means that the government (state or federal) cannot pass laws that discriminate against certain classes of people without showing a “compelling state interest”. This is a good thing and was an issue very near and dear to the hearts of our founders who were concerned about religious discrimination by the King of England.
The reason that same sex marriage bans imposed by state governments (either by legislation or referendum) are being summarily rejected by the Federal Courts is because no state has ever been able to show a “compelling state interest” in preventing same sex couples from being married. In fact, the 4th Circuit clearly demonstrated that not only did Virginia fail to show a compelling state interest in support of their efforts to ban same sex marriage, Virginia’s argument actually supported the position of their opponents!
Senator Tim Scott believes that “the will of the people” should prevail in South Carolina since our same sex marriage ban was approved by a state public referendum. Discriminatory laws enforced by the government against its citizens, whether enacted by the legislative process or state referendum, have the same effect on the rights of its citizens and are subject to the same legal standards. I would remind Senator Scott that not too long ago people in South Carolina thought it was just a dandy idea to enslave an entire race of people and force them to work on plantations.
The bottom line is this: The United States Constitution binds all 50 states and guarantees that the citizens of all states be free from discrimination, religious or otherwise. From a purely legal (i.e. secular) analysis there is no legal justification to discriminate against same sex couples who want to marry.
This should be seen as very good news by the religious citizens of our great nation. Once again our courts have gone out on a limb by protecting the rights of a distinct and vulnerable minority to affirm the principle that all citizens of the United States should be treated equally regardless of their religious (or lack thereof) beliefs.
South Carolina is now the only remaining state in the 4th Circuit to uphold a same sex marriage ban. Our law is virtually the same as the laws struck down in Virginia, North Carolina, and West Virginia. Federal District Judge Michelle Childs is set to rule on the South Carolina ban very soon in a case involving a State Highway Patrol officer in Columbia. She is required to apply the facts of the South Carolina case to the law set forth by the 4th circuit.
Anyone want to place a bet on how Judge Childs will rule? Should we ask Attorney General Alan Wilson to reimburse the treasury for the costs associated with his appeal?