Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Community Voices features opinion pieces from a wide variety of authors and perspectives. (Submission Guidelines)

Marriage amendment has nothing to do with ‘separation of church and state’

Minnesotans favoring the amendment find support in sound reasoning and evidence that has nothing to do with religion.

In his Sept. 11 Community Voices commentary, “Separating church from state on the marriage amendment,” Jonathan Eisenberg of Americans United for Separation of Church and State offers a slick but analytically deficient claim that passing the marriage amendment would unconstitutionally codify “conservative” religious doctrine into Minnesota’s Constitution. But passing the marriage amendment in Minnesota would not violate the Establishment Clause, and the church-state issue ultimately does not assist Minnesota voters in deciding whether to support the proposed state marriage amendment.

The problem is that religious groups come down on both sides of the marriage amendment, some supporting it and some opposing it, as Eisenberg acknowledges. So either passing or defeating the marriage amendment would “impose one specific religious view on all citizens” as Eisenberg fears. Therefore, the concept of “separation of church and state” doesn’t advance the debate one way or the other because the argument of “imposing religion” cancels out on both sides of the equation like a factor in an algebra problem.

Does Eisenberg really want to apply his extreme view of “separation of church and state” to all of our laws?  No one is seriously concerned that state laws against stealing, murder and giving false testimony are “imposing religion on people” because they agree with the Ten Commandments. Next time some lawmaker urges that we aid the poor, help the immigrants and children in our state, which the Book of Leviticus commands, or that Congress should forgive the debts of Third World nations because of the Old Testament’s Year of Jubilee, will Eisenberg oppose them all?

What about laws banning racial discrimination, that the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. argued were mandated by Jesus’ words to love our neighbor as ourselves? I doubt that Eisenberg would ask the state Legislature to repeal them. But such an appeal would be logical under his principle.

High court has rejected this view

Fortunately, the Supreme Court has repeatedly rejected this harsh view of “separation of church and state,” ruling that a law does not “violate the Establishment Clause because it happens to coincide or harmonize with the tenets of some or all religions,” Harris v. McRae (1980).

Eisenberg argues that Minnesota violates the Establishment Clause and the Free Exercise Clause because the current state marriage laws “are blocking clergy and congregations that wish to legally marry same-gendered couples from doing so.” The proper response, Eisenberg urges, is for Minnesota to “repeal its existing legal restrictions and allow equal marriage rights to same-gendered couples.” But repealing the current state law defining marriage as one man and one woman would allow a lot more types of marriages. Some religions believe in polygamy, others in group marriage (polyamory) or no marriage limitations at all. Minnesotans could not have a law with a uniform definition of marriage for all people, but would have to accommodate everyone’s varying definitions of marriage. This would not be “marriage equality,” but marriage fragmentation and disintegration.

The concern over “legislating religious doctrine” by passing the marriage amendment evaporates because Minnesotans favoring the amendment find support in sound reasoning and evidence that has nothing to do with religion. Approving the marriage amendment would stop state courts from using the state constitution to throw out current marriage laws (as courts have done in nine states in the past 20 years). In fact, Minnesota has such a lawsuit going on right now in Hennepin County District Court, so this is no abstract threat. The amendment would maintain the authority of the people and their state lawmakers to decide the marriage issue.

Consensus of cultures

Approving the marriage amendment would further align Minnesota with the common consensus of cultures from around the world since the dawn of time. That consensus is that societies function best by instituting a public institution of marriage, defined as one man and one woman because children are best raised by their own father and mother in a marriage that is monogamous, sexually exclusive, and lifelong.

Current social science agrees that children raised in a household of their married father and mother have improved health, better educational outcomes, less drug and alcohol addiction, and less child abuse than homes structured otherwise. Thus, voters can rationally and reasonably support this amendment based on reasons that have nothing to do with religion.

Jordan Lorence is senior counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom, actively defending marriage laws and amendments throughout the United States. Lorence was born and raised in Minnesota, and is a graduate of the University of Minnesota Law School. He argued the winning side in the recent decision of the Minnesota Supreme Court on the ballot title for the marriage amendment, Limmer v. Ritchie.


Write your reaction to this piece in Comments below. Or consider submitting your own Community Voices commentary; for information, email Susan Albright.