Marriage Isn't Sacred

Holy Moly! The Supreme Court's smackdown of the so-called Defense of Marriage Act is so very sweet, because it reminds us that sometimes love wins the day. I support marriage equality because it is right, it is just, and it is overdue. 

I also support it because it is American. After all, marriage isn't sacred. 

Let me explain. As a rabbi, I officiate at many weddings and every one of them fills me with awe and delight. Each even gives me a profound sense of G-d's presence. 

So how can I say there is "nothing sacred about marriage"? Of course marriage can and should be sacred. My relationship with my wife is sacred. Sacred, meaning infused with holiness; the very word for marriage in Jewish life is kiddushin, or "a holy relationship." 

When I officiate at a wedding, I actually perform two weddings. One wedding is, to quote the Jewish liturgy, "according to the law of Moses and Israel." It uses the symbolism of centuries of Jewish life: wine, chuppah, ketubah, rings, a smashed glass. It celebrates the Jewish home that this couple will establish. It rejoices in the perpetuation of Jewish life from one generation to the next. And it marks the new family line and the new intimate domain that this couple will share with one another and with no one else (G-d willing). These things conform to my understanding of the sacred. 

However, there is also a second wedding that occurs simultaneously. Before witnesses sign the ketubah, we sign a document issued by the state. This civil marriage license is valid according to the law of the United States of America. And there isn't a thing that is sacred about it because our government shouldn't be in the business of sacredness. The sacred is the realm of religion and the First Amendment to our Constitution protects us from the establishment of official religions. The marriages that the Supreme Court is addressing and the only marriages that the government should be preoccupied with are the civil marriages that occur in the eyes of Uncle Sam, not the laws of (in my case) Moses and the people Israel. 

By "not sacred" I don't mean that civil marriage is not meaningful or profound; of course it is. But from the perspective of our government, marriage should be a relationship that is protected by laws and rights. People who have entered into this legal arrangement with one another are entitled to certain rights and privileges: inheritance, hospital visitation, joint tax returns, veterans' benefits, conflict of interest protections, and 1,133 other rights that heterosexual couples automatically receive when they are wed. None of those rights are inherently Christian. They are secular rights conveyed by our civil system. 

Our society has reached the tipping-point of acknowledging that same-sex marriages are equally entitled to these rights and privileges. All the arguments to the contrary inevitably resort to religious and biblical language but the Bible isn't the law of the land, something for which all Sabbath-violators and cheeseburger-eaters should be grateful. 

Furthermore, despite the hyperbole of the religious right, same-sex marriage is no slippery slope towards permitting every conceivable sort of union. The government retains the right to prohibit any relationship that is inherently abusive, such as incest or polygamy. But no longer can it deny the evidence that is, and has been, perfectly obvious for so long: that same-sex relationships are infused with the same potential for commitment, stability, and love that any straight relationship is capable of. 

That is why same-sex marriage in America is a matter of basic human rights. The astoundingly cynically-named "Defense of Marriage Act" was always a farce, and even its supporters knew it. The sacredness of my marriage was never in need of defending by denying someone else's right to marry. 

If you believe that homosexuality cannot convey sacredness, you have the right to your belief. So does your house of worship, and so does your pastor. America's blessed Bill of Rights will ensure that you never have to enter into a marriage you find morally objectionable, and your clergyperson will never be forced to officiate at such a union against his will. But on Wednesday the Supreme Court affirmed that your pursuit of sacredness does not trump mine or our neighbor's. 

Thank G-d!