Our country is engaged in an increasingly complex conversation around the question of marriage. Let's explore the questions that often arise in this conversation:
1. Why are we even having this conversation? The elected members of the California Supreme Court mostly conservatives were asked to review the state marriage laws. The court held that California's Constitution gives all couples the right to marry the one they love and to have the legal protections of marriage that the government offers. The state Legislature twice passed legislation to bring the state's marriage laws in line with the state's constitution. Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, legislators and the court all decided gay couples should be allowed to marry under the current constitutional language. Sadly, some people want to block committed gay couples from getting married through a constitutional amendment that Californians will vote on this November.
2. Why can't gay couples just go see an attorney to get legal protections? No matter how much money is spent on the country's best lawyers, there are simply some legal protections offered to married couples that are not available through any other contract. Whether that's the right to be at a loved one's deathbed in the hospital or Social Security benefits, the legal protections offered through marriage are not replicated any other way.
3. Isn't marriage ordained by God, not the government? Actually, clergy are licensed by their state to perform marriages that conform to the laws of the state. Still, religious traditions usually believe that God is the source of marriage even as they conform to state laws for licensing. An increasing number of Christian and Jewish communities of faith believe that any loving couple may be married. Some faiths, like the LDS and Catholic Churches, believe differently. They read many of the same scriptures and come to very different conclusions not only about gay people but many other topics as well. The most important thing to remember is that the government's role is not to decide which religion is right but to ensure that all religions are allowed to exercise their faith's teachings without government interference.
4. If the government allows gay people to marry, will churches be forced to marry all couples, too? Absolutely not. Today, religions pick and choose who they will marry without regard to who is legally allowed to marry. To be married in a Mormon Temple, one must meet very strict criteria. Although people who wouldn't pass that test are allowed to marry legally, the LDS Church has every legal right to deny them a temple marriage. The Catholic Church will not marry anyone who has been divorced. Although divorcees are clearly allowed to marry again under state law and by other religious traditions, the Catholic Church has no obligation to marry these people. Churches that believe that committed gay couples should get married must be allowed to marry those couples. Churches who believe otherwise will likewise be guaranteed the free exercise of religion under the law.
5. Should we exclude gay people from the legal protections of marriage? No. Religious organizations, including the LDS Church, should feel empowered to teach according to the dictates of their own faith, but the government should not be in the business of picking and choosing what religious tenets to codify into law and which not to recognize. All citizens, gay and straight, should be allowed the legal protections and responsibilities only available through marriage. All couples should be able to achieve their hopes and dreams. None of us like being told by the government that we can't achieve our hopes and dreams, and to take those newly realized dreams away from committed and caring couples in California will hurt many people. Those who believe in free agency, the protection of religious liberty, and in treating others as we too would like to be treated will oppose any effort to take these protections away from gay couples who choose to marry.
Valerie A. Larabee is executive director of The Utah Pride Center.