The constitution of our nation begins with the phrase, "We, the people of the United States." At its very core, our government is not the ruler of the people, but the people are the ruler of the government. This central idea is designed to protect us from being ruled by anyone. The very first part of the first Amendment to the Constitution as part of the Bill of Rights clarifies further with, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." This has colloquially become known as the "separation of church and state."
In general, the behavior of a religion and the behavior of a government have little in common and function both independent of one another and concurrently with one another. One of the exceptions to this mutual apathy concerns the union of people, as both governments and religions have related but different rules.
The separation of church and state exists to resolve such conflicts. It is imperative that it be used uniformly so that in addition to ensuring rights to individuals separate from religious beliefs, it ensures the rights of each religion separate from individual beliefs. In other words, the government may not enforce rules that defy the beliefs of any religion, including beliefs that permit or deny unions.
In an example bluntly pertinent to current events, the government may create laws to respect the union between homosexuals, respecting the rights of individuals, but it may not attempt to force Christian churches to marry homosexuals, respecting the rights of religions.
To be clear, I shall refer to the self-declared civil union between people as a "union" rather than as a "marriage" which is carried out by a church. Unions between people are among the bonds that are respected by all of humanity, eclipsed only by the bond between parent and child, and the bond between siblings. These unions may be created through religious ceremony—be it a Christian marriage or a Wiccan handfasting—or as simply a declaration by the members of that union. People who desire unions like these do so because they love each other and wish to strengthen that love by sharing their lives together.
They wish to share joyous occasions such as sharing the ownership of a residence or the birth of a child, challenging occasions such as visiting a loved one in a hospital or making decisions on their behalf when they are unable to do so, and mournful occasions such as respecting the desires of a loved one in the event of their death.
The government is interested in these unions for several reasons: to recognize that the personal resources of the members of the union are pooled, that those pooled resources may be taxed jointly or in part by the decision of the union, that the union wishes to be treated as a single entity in the eyes of the law as best is possible, and—when it cannot be treated as a single entity—to grant special rights to members of the union so one member may act on behalf of another.
The government may limit unions to parties that are at an age of legal consent, require evidence of consent, and require notification that such a union has been created. The special rights granted in the union of persons are bold and powerful, and for that reason, one hopes that the parties enter into such a union with caution. However, the right to enter into a union shall not be infringed by the government for any reason.
As a country, wisdom has prevailed in the past, and we now take for granted that women are equal partners in a civil union, people of different skin color may form a civil union, and unions formed with religions other than Christianity are respected.
So too shall that wisdom prevail as we lift the inequalities based on sexual orientation.
--- Jason Olshefsky
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