Let’s Talk About the Marriage Amendment Minnesota!

Alright, rather than devoting my time and energy about how cynical I feel about the general election, I should devote my time and energy to something I feel is important, perhaps even just as a citizen of Minnesota. There are other posts where I have talked about my religious reasons as a Jew for opposing this amendment and applauding the Minnesota Rabbinical Association for doing so—although I could probably write a whole book on Jewishness and queerness—and I have written about my own complicated relationship with regard to same-sex marriage and my own sense of queer politics. The last one is not to be divisive but to be honest with people to say that there is more at stake and that there should be open and honest conversations about these politics. But my point is to argue against this amendment.

The way that I have seen it is that this amendment has thrown religion to the forefront of a debate that is immensely complicated and several different issues rolled into one: how should religious institutions best be a public witness to their own message? How do we understand the “church”-state divide? How do we understand marriage as both a religious institution but also as a civic and economic institution that provides benefits to couples?

Nevertheless, it seems to be framed as a religious debate that has spilled into the public sphere. If you ask most Jews or most Unitarian Universalists, for instance, we’d tell you that same-sex marriage is a religious and public virtue. The debate is largely settled with these specific religious groups. Thus, I think the issue is largely a Christian debate. Christianity has had a large hegemony over the public sphere in the history of the United States, so this seems like a logical conclusion. Considering that secularism has always been influenced by Christian virtues and ethe (pl. of ethos) and I would argue, still is today, it should be no surprise that this can also play out as a seemingly non-religious debate.

But then I also believe it is incorrect to push this debate into other sectors of civil society where the debate is largely a non-issue. For a moment, I would like to go to Dietrich Bonhoffer and especially his so-called “religionless Christianity.” Bonhoffer at one point in time in his letters from prison discusses what is known as Arcani Disciplina (in German, Arkandisziplin), or the discipline of the secret.  The Discipline of the Secret was an ancient Christian practice that meant not discussing the mysteries of the faith, such as the Eucharist, in the presence of the unbaptized. Only those instructed in the faith and willing to make a Christian commitment through baptism were admitted to the Eucharistic communion part of the Lord’s Supper. Bonhoeffer reformulated this in light of the modern world, where Christian truths were forced upon an unwilling world. The Church should not wield the coercive sword in order to preserve the mysteries of the faith. Rather, they are to preserve them through prayer, worship, and example. 

Now, I would like to move to early Evangelical thought in the United States. It might surprise some of us today that evangelicals were the strictest supporters of separation of church and state, to such a degree that many supported taxing religious institutions. Their support of separation had much to do with a high view of God and religious volunteerism. Their high view of God was a plurality of religious groups should coexist and it is up to God and not the state to decide which religions should flourish and which should whither away. Religious volunteerism was important because state coercion or control of an individuals choice on matters of conscience would interfere with their free choice to choose the will of God. If religion and state intermingled, it meant that individuals no longer had a free choice and they could no longer rely on their own conscience to tell them what was right and wrong. Lastly, these evangelicals also believed that they had a divine mandate and the state would corrupt this mandate. Essentially, when state and religion mix, it is religion that becomes compromised. All of these views begin to make sense when we recognize that in the 18th century, Baptists and other evangelicals were an actively persecuted religious minority in states such as Massachusetts and Virginia that did have state-sponsored religion.

To Synthesize 

The evangelicals and Bonhoffer might not agree completely but I think both had a high-mindedness about truth. This is important in any democratic society, if we care about a democratic society. If the state takes a side in this issue, it signals the debate is effectively over.  Personally, I believe that if this amendment passes, that it will only be law for a short period of time because the debate isn’t over. I think the fact that the debate is occurring is a consequence that a consensus against same-sex marriage is quickly eroding. Then again, I take a view of the public sphere that is largely intolerant once there is a large consensus. Those who oppose same-sex marriage no longer have a monopoly on public acceptability and I fear that they are moving to the sword of the state to enforce their views of religiosity upon the public as a whole. Using the sword of the state shuts off a real public discussion about not only the issue of same-sex marriage but all the other questions that I mentioned above. The evangelicals in colonial America might agree with conservatives about marriage, but they would disagree with the way in which it is being handled because individuals no longer have a hand in making conscientious choices with regard to matters of religion. It also says that God’s truth can no longer win out, we need the coercive power of the state to enforce our views. Lastly, I bring up Bonhoffer for an important reason. First, I bring him up because I think he is correct about the issue of forcing witness on populations who largely don’t understand or accept it. It leads to the question of whether it is appropriate to amend our state constitution in such a way that privileges one sector of Christianity. Does witness belong to the entire state or does it belong to the faithful? Moreover, does an amendment such as this not make the population de facto Christian in a perhaps immensely problematic way?

These are reasons why I oppose such an amendment. It forces non-Christians to reckon with a debate that is effectively a Christian one and it removes the democratic potential of such conversations. We no longer have the face each other and discuss our conscience openly and honestly. The state gets to make those decisions for us. In the end, my post is an attempt to not only honor a more democratic discussion, but also to discuss ways in which one can oppose this amendment for fundamentally religiously conservative reasons.

For more more information, I would encourage you to go to Minnesotans United for All Families.


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