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Separating church from state on the marriage amendment

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The marriage amendment violates First Amendment guarantees of free exercise and non-establishment of religion by imposing specific religious view on all citizens.

The fundamental principle of separation of church and state should lead Minnesota voters to reject the proposed constitutional amendment defining marriage as only the union of one man and one woman.

The amendment is, at its core, an attempt to impose one specific religious view on all citizens. That is not the proper role of government under our First Amendment guarantees of free exercise and non-establishment of religion.

The proposed amendment is based on conservative religious views about homosexuality and “traditional” marriage. Its supporters rely on select biblical passages that, by their interpretation, condemn homosexual relations and support the view that only male-female marriages are allowed.

An inherently religious stance

They contend that same-gender marriages would violate the “sanctity” of marriage, which is inherently a religious stance. The most conservative or orthodox branches of Christianity, Judaism and Islam oppose same-gender marriage.

However, many sects and branches of religions do not share this view. Many religious denominations support equal marriage rights for same-gender couples and may even allow clergy openly involved in same-gender relationships to lead their congregations. Examples are all or certain branches of the Baptist, Episcopal, Jewish, Lutheran, Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ faiths.

Some disagree with clergy

Even within the most conservative religious denominations, some congregations and followers of the faith do not agree with their clergy or leadership hierarchy. For example, Catholics for Marriage Equality MN opposes the amendment despite the unflinching position of the Catholic Church of Minnesota. Indeed, 100 former Catholic priests have joined forces to oppose the amendment.

The Minnesota United Methodists also oppose the amendment despite the dictate of the United Methodist Book of Discipline that “the practice of homosexuality is incompatible with Christian teaching.”

Of course, atheists, secular humanists and members of other religions that are not based on Judeo-Christian theology would oppose any attempt to impose other people’s religious views on them.  Members of many religious and civic groups also point to the need to make sure laws that affect everyone — regardless of their religion — have a secular rationale as a primary reason for being adopted. This is a key branch of the so-called “Lemon test” adopted by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1971.

The state should not choose among religious beliefs

In light of this, the “wall of separation between Church and State” described by President Thomas Jefferson, the leading proponent of the Bill of Rights, should lead voters to reject the proposed amendment. The state should not be put in a position of choosing between competing religious views, or of imposing the beliefs of the religious on the non-religious. Not only Jefferson and President John F. Kennedy but also President James Madison, known as the “Father of the Bill of Rights,” spoke of the benefits to both institutions of the “total separation of the Church from the State.”

Often, proponents of the amendment claim that permitting same-gender marriages would force churches to marry same-gender couples against their religious doctrine, thus infringing on the free exercise of their religion. Yet nothing in existing or proposed marriage-freedom laws does any such thing. The doctrine of separation of church and state would, in fact, prohibit the state from forcing churches to perform marriages that contradict their faith. In fact, churches are not required to perform any marriages. They can, therefore, decide which marriages they wish to perform.

Laws are currently blocking some clergy

Ironically, however, state laws and constitutional provisions banning same-gender marriages on the books today are blocking clergy and congregations that wish to legally marry same-gender couples from doing so. Under Minnesota law, ministers of any religious denomination are authorized to solemnize marriages, but are not allowed to do so for same-gender couples even if they wish. This is an open and continuing violation of the separation of church and state doctrine that should be remedied by legislation or else by our courts. The proposed constitutional amendment would only perpetuate this state interference with the free exercise of religion.

The First Amendment principles of free exercise and non-establishment of religion weigh heavily against the marriage amendment. Minnesota should not adopt a permanent ban on same-gender marriage by establishing one religious viewpoint into the Constitution.

Rather, Minnesota should repeal its existing legal restrictions and allow equal marriage rights to same-gender couples. In that way, all couples would be able to participate in marriage if it is consistent with their religious or non-religious views. Those who do not wish to participate in or officiate over same-gender marriages because of  their religious values need not do so.

Jonathan L. Eisenberg is an attorney and vice president of the Minnesota Chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State.


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Comments (16)

  1. Submitted by jody rooney on 09/11/2012 - 09:11 am.

    Another good reason for voting no

    Support your Constitution and vote no on Catholic Church purchased legislation (see who funded the bill).

    I have always found it sad that religions have opposed and actually justified suppression of women’s rights, women’s property rights, racial equality and children’s labor laws.

    • Submitted by Jay McHue on 10/31/2012 - 12:53 pm.

      And yet…

      It was also the religious who have supported women’s rights, racial equality, and protection of children. Go figure.

  2. Submitted by Paul Brandon on 09/11/2012 - 09:30 am.

    Get the government out

    Let’s follow this to its logical conclusion and get the government out of the marriage business altogether.
    Let governments (since marriage is regulated on the state, not the federal level) issue certificates of civil union granting whatever civil rights and privileges the state finds appropriate to any couple who wishes to make a commitment. No moral approval would be implied.
    Let churches (or other private organizations) issue marriage certificates to anyone that THEY chose.
    These would grant whatever moral rights the group finds appropriate, but carry no civil weight.

    • Submitted by Patricia Gerleman on 10/18/2012 - 07:04 pm.

      marriage equality

      Even now, Churches need a document from the state that needs to be turned back in by the person in authority of marrying a couple. It is more of a secular situation, than it is religious. Marriages have been, in the past, treaties between families, dowries given, peace made because of the merging of two families. I have no objection to states rights, because I believe that as time goes by, and certain corporations will go to marriage equality states for their employees to be happy, that the states arguing against will see the money signs going to those states. And I think these states will fall like dominoes. Because money really makes them sit up and listen.

      I do, however, object to the federal government not giving these gay marriages equal rights as any other marriage. There are inheritance rights, property rights, children’s rights, custody rights, etc. In Iowa now, the health care corporations are now giving health insurance to same sex couples. Iowa has marriage rights, but someone moving to Minnesota, will lose a few rights, and never get all those federal rights. i think its time for all people to have equal marriage rights in this country.

  3. Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/11/2012 - 09:35 am.

    A higher standard

    Leftists have settled on religion as the ground upon they will raise the rainbow battle flag in their war on American traditions. I don’t know id that was necessarily a wise decision, but I understand why it is preferable to the alternative.

    Religion is founded on faith and morality, which is something leftists have long experience in undermining. Religion is short on hard facts, it is nebulous for those not raised in a religious tradition and therefore easier to attack with rhetorical propaganda.

    That is why, in discussions regarding the re-definition of marriage, I choose to make my stand upon the solid ground of science.

    When homosexuals and their leftist allies can make a fact based argument that vanquishes everything we know about human biology, they will have a winning battle strategy.

    I won’t hold my breath.

    This is not to say that I don’t take exception with people that shamelessly wrap themselves in a sheepskin of “Catholicism” for the purposes of infiltration and undermining the church. But as a practicing Catholic myself, I know the church doesn’t need me to fight that battle.

    “I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.”

    Matthew 16:18

    • Submitted by Justin Adams on 09/11/2012 - 10:53 am.

      OK, I’ll Bite

      I’m a moderator of a very large sexuality forum at, and the founder and editor in chief of an online sexuality advice, opinion, education and variety magazine called (nsfw, though not pornographic).

      Sexuality in human beings serves multiple purposes. It is of course (in most cases) a necessary precursor to procreation, however, there is a great deal of research showing that social bonding in human beings is closely tied to our sexuality as well. This effect is not limited to humans but also other high functioning primates and other mammals with highly developed brains. For schollarly research on this purpose of sexuality, please see:

      Diamond, Jared (1992). The rise and fall of the third chimpanzee.

      Frans de Waal, “Bonobo Sex and Society”, Scientific American (March 1995): 82–86

      Bailey NW, Zuk M (August 2009). “Same-sex sexual behavior and evolution”. Trends Ecol. Evol. (Amst.) 24 (8): 439–46.

      Bruce Bagemihl, Biological Exuberance: Animal Homosexuality and Natural Diversity (St. Martin’s Press, 1999).

      In short summary, these works cite evidence that supports the dual function of sexualtiy as a bonding tool, for example, the widespread practice of contraception and continued sexual activitiy between people who use it, the release of oxytocin with sex and orgasm (a chemical known to be essential in creating a bond between mothers and children), the concealed ovulation of bonobos and humans which incentivises frequent coupling at all points across a menstrual cycle (thereby increasing the oxytocin experiences of both partners and facilitating long-term bonding), and the conclusion that sex reinforces intimate social bonds between individuals to form larger social structures. The resulting cooperation encourages collective tasks that promote the survival of each member of the group
      One of the primary biological mechanisms by which attraction is determined is pheromones.

      So that gay people cannot procreate is not a sufficient argument to argue that they should be denied coupling.

      Additionally, one of the primary mechanisms of attraction is pheromones. There is a large amount of research supporting the view that homosexual men’s pheromone response and attraction physiology function differently than heterosexual mens. For a quick article for a jumping off point, try this ny times piece:

      When attraction is in place and close contact and sexual relations occur, long term social bonding is strengthened for gay people as well as for straight people. Thus, there is an exactly correlary biological process occuring between gay men as there is between opposite sex partners – but the law only allows the state to sanction opposite sex long term bonding.

      There is no biological basis to deny homosexual couples the same recognition of their long-term pair bonds as heterosexual couples enjoy.

      I trust now that your biological argument has been demolished, you will be voting no with the rest of us who believe in the 14th amendment and basic human dignity for all people.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/11/2012 - 07:14 pm.

        Thank you Justin,

        I do appreciate your attempt to seriously reconstruct human biology. Let’s see how your response stacks up.

        You cite homosexual behavior in primates as an example; I’ve heard the same link made between many other animals and humans as well. Primates and other animals also eat their own scat; does that recommend itself to human mimicry? I think not. Suggesting that deviant behavior is acceptable because animals engage in it is a losing proposition from the start.

        Now, your pheromone angle on the other hand is both unique and fascinating. But, since there is absolutely no proof that adult human beings even have one at all, shall we radically alter our biologically based male\female mating model to accommodate a vomeronasal organ that could be malfunctioning in a small percentage of human males that may or may not have one in the first place?

        Again; I think not.

        Finally, you suggest that sex between members of the same sex strengthens long term social bonding. That may be true, but what benefit does society gain from granting special status to encourage a socially bonded homosexual population?

        You kill any chance of a successful argument in favor of doing so by suggesting that “there is an exactly correlary [sic] biological process occuring [sic] between gay men as there is between opposite sex partners” because you have, by necessity, ignored a primary scientific truth: men and women are attracted sexually to accommodate procreation.

        Evolution is about survival, not debauched Saturday nights. Society bestows special rights and responsibilities upon married men and women in order to encourage the rearing of happy, healthy children.

        Have you demolished human biology? Not a scratch.

    • Submitted by Jackson Cage on 09/11/2012 - 11:05 am.

      Not a higher standard, your standard

      Love how the Tea Partiers love to fall back on the old “Lefties are anti-religion” position. Then, when that fails, they go with “human biology” argument. In reality, they’re not interested in science or religion, just THEIR OWN view of science and religion they want to impose on everyone else.

      • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/11/2012 - 07:33 pm.

        I’d be happy, Jackson

        …to argue the religious aspects, but we’re sticking to science right now. And if you would be so kind as to honor us with a bit of detail into how “THEIR OWN” view of science differs from fact, I’ll be happy to provide a response.

  4. Submitted by Greg Kapphahn on 09/11/2012 - 10:17 am.

    “Natural Law” is NOT the Science of Biology

    It is very common for religious folk of a particular “conservative” bent to point to “natural law” as a primary and unimpeachable source for their perspective on a whole variety of issues,…

    “Natural Law” being, not a scientific attempt to observe, document and understand what is actually found in the natural world,…

    but the process by which those religious folks, (or their accepted “one of us” experts) don a set of lenses made up of those things they already believe,…

    then, examine nature to find those “natural laws” upon which they claim to based their beliefs, perspectives and dogma.

    In that exercise, however, they are unable to gain any awareness that there are things to be found in nature that call what they so fervently believe to be “truth” into question,..

    the lenses they’re wearing acting as a blocking mechanism and filter which renders invisible to them anything that exists in nature that does not support what they already believe.

    ACTUAL science, of course, finds, through objective observation, that what we humans take to be homosexuality, i.e. mating behavior and even lifelong bonding between individuals of the same gender, to be spread throughout most species.

    It doesn’t seem to dominate any particular species, but it is nearly always present. This would seem to indicate that it has some biological advantage, not yet understood,…

    or alternatively, seems to indicate that God, having omniscient, omnipresent, and omnipotent abilities and awareness, chose to make homosexuality part of God’s “intelligent design” for all creation for God’s own good purposes, not, as yet well understood by many of God’s people.

    For supposedly religious people to believe that something so common in God’s creation as homosexuality is a flaw which it is up to humans to correct is akin to those same humans claiming the right and ability to dope slap God while saying “you made that one wrong, dummy!”

    (an expression of extreme human pride, arrogance, ignorance and hubris having nothing to do with actual faith in, nor the desire to faithfully serve God).

  5. Submitted by Justin Adams on 09/11/2012 - 12:12 pm.

    Three additional points on marriage and biology

    In further retort to Mr. Swift’s position that human biology in some way is responsible for the institution of marriage and the limitation of state sanction of that institution to opposite sex couples.

    First, Mr. Swift enjoins himself to some very dangerious discredited branches of science when he observes an existing power structure (the historical subservience and ownership of women through the institution of marriage) and attempts to reverse engineer a scienctific position to justify the unjust power dynamic. His fellows have in the past used such deductions to justify the instituion of slavery on the basis of the genetic inferiority of racial minorities – a “science” that seemed perfectly rational on the basis that more slaves didn’t run away and were so productive as cotton pickers, a “science” that has been used to justify genital mutiliation and even labotmies of women who dared to have a libido in this country (Dr. Kellog, of cerial fame, is an interesting study), and, not to go all Godwin, but, well, you get the drift.

    Second, Mr. Swift, by introducting evolutionary biology as the basis of his pro-marriage argument risks undermining not only the position that marriage should be restricted to one man and one woman, but the entire concept of single-pair bonding in our (or any other social dwelling) species – that is, his position if properly explored leads to the controversial but scientifically well supported position that in fact, promiscuity by both genders was the norm of human mating strategy for the vast majority of our species’ existance, and that, a careful examination of even contemporary (or, say, victorian) social mores and practices would reveal that humans are not in fact biologically monogamous at all but rather multi-partnered couplers, albiet generally serially so, rather than concurrently so, and that examples of creatures who do form single-pair bonds for life are exceedingly rare in nature except among some solitary dwellers.

    Third, Mr. Swift displays a gross misunderstanding of the necessity of regulations and laws when he suggests that marriage between one man and one woman is the natural law – for if it were the natural order of things, why would it be necessary for religous authorities to enact prohibitions against adultery and all forms of premarital and extramerital sex, and to attach such extreme penalties as stonings and burnings for transgressions thereof – such laws, as all laws according to persons of Mr. Swift’s political ideology, are coercive in nature – meant to create examples of consequences for disobeying authority to be held up as cautionary tales to keep women safely within the control of their husbands.

    The answer to “why does marriage exist” in spite of these observable facts that deny it’s existance as a function of natural law is quite simple. When mankind ended its nomatic practices 10 to 15 thousand years ago, women, as childbearers, became an invaluable commodity as a reproductive resource. In order for men to legitimately own the children and thereby force them to do labor on their new farms, they needed to prevent women from making themselves available to other partners – for, due to the fact that one cannot tell when a woman is ovulating, it was necessary for men to isolate and sequester women away from the attention of other mates in order to have legitimate claims to ownership of the laborers that woman produced.

    • Submitted by Thomas Swift on 09/11/2012 - 07:29 pm.

      Alrighty then.

      I do hope my response to your earlier attempt to demolish the truth behind human biology gets posted before this one…continuity in our discussion will, I think enhance the enjoyment of the readers.

      I’m going to skip over your first point (I hope you don’t mind) because it is a red herring. I never stated anything remotely connected with “the historical subservience and ownership of women through the institution of marriage” because it has nothing to do with human biology or science. The socio-economic aspects of marriage are an interesting subject that I’d be happy to debate with you, but let’s stick to one topic at a time, shall we?

      Your second point, ahhh yes, that we will delve into.

      The construction of “marriage” as a specially supported institution has everything to do with evolutionary biology. It is, in fact, designed to counter the male predilection for procreating with as many females as, well, humanly possible, in favor of a strong, stable family to provide an environment in which our children may be raised as securely, happily and well adjusted as possible.

      Marriage grants special privileges, but it also puts restraints in place to keep parents from wandering astray from the home fires willy-nilly. Those restraints are completely useless (and unnecessary) between homosexual partners, QED.

      Now, I grant you that the last 50 years has seen changes, such as “no fault” divorce that undermine the clever institution that marriage is, but I hardly think that “it’s already ill, so let’s finish it off” will win a debate as judged by a thoughtful audience.

      • Submitted by Emily Sojourn on 09/13/2012 - 03:49 pm.

        Thanks for the “swift” laugh!

        “It is, in fact, designed to counter the male predilection for procreating with as many females as, well, humanly possible.”

        Well now a marriage of two men would solve that little problem nicely, wouldn’t it?

        “Marriage grants special privileges, but it also puts restraints in place to keep parents from wandering astray from the home fires willy-nilly.”

        I’m sorry. I can’t see my screen clearly. I spit coffee onto it from laughing so hard. Marriage has prevented adultery just as effectively as it’s prevented homosexuality.

        The reason Mr. Swift and his ilk wish to deny same sex marriage has nothing to do with religion or science. It’s simple: He doesn’t like us. He thinks we’re scary or gross or whatever and he thinks if he punishes us enough we’ll give up our perverse rebellion and fall into line like we should. Of course, he can’t really come out and admit that, so he spends an exorbitant amount of time weaving false facts into convoluted arguments that are all so much smoke and mirrors.

        The Holocaust didn’t stop us from being, Mr. Swift. Electroshock therapy didn’t obliterate us, nor the assassinations, nor the beatings, nor the emotional abuse, not the denial of basic human rights….

        We’re not going anywhere. We’re not going to deny our biology. And the vast majority of young people — Republicans included — are siding with the “lefties” on this issue because our committed relationships don’t frighten them. Your stance is fast becoming a footnote in history, much like the laws outlawing interracial marriage… whose opponents also tried to argue the “biology” line.

  6. Submitted by Tim Milner on 09/11/2012 - 03:07 pm.

    Absolutely right Paul Brandon

    it was the government that started this mess by granting civil rights based on a religious belief/ceremony.

    Government can get out bu doing exactly as you state – no more Marriage License, replaced by Civil Union. The state can decided who qualifies for what civil rights under a civil union. The faithful, whatever religion it may be, can get their religious benefits from Marriage in their church.

    As a Catholic, I would get both a Civil Union from the state and a Marriage Certificate in the church – each with its own benefits. I have no problem with that arrangement

    I believe this solution would end of controversy immediately.

  7. Submitted by Karen Sandness on 09/11/2012 - 03:56 pm.

    In many countries, you have to

    have a civil ceremony to make a marriage legal. Religious ceremonies are not illegal, but they are optional, an addition to, not a replacement for the civil ceremony.

    Why can’t we do that here?

  8. Submitted by Corey Mondello on 09/13/2012 - 02:41 pm.

    ‘When Same-Sex Marriage Was A Christian Rite’

    •’When Gay Marriage Was A Rite’: [Excerpts] (

    “Gay marriage does not lead to polygamy according to 6000 years of human history” ,…,

    “… a long tradition of same sex marriage indicates that the Christian attitude toward same sex unions may not always have been as “straight” as is now suggested. A Kiev art museum contains a curious icon from St. Catherine’s monastery on Mt. Sinai.” ,…,

    “Is the icon suggesting that a homosexual or same sex marriage is one sanctified by Christ? The very idea seems initially shocking. The full answer comes from other sources about the two men featured, St. Serge and St. Bacchus, two Roman soldiers who became Christian martyrs.” ,…,

    “Professor John Boswell’s Startling Discovery. The very idea of a Christian gay marriage seems incredible. Yet after a twelve year search of Catholic and Orthodox church archives Yale history professor John Boswell has discovered that a type of Christian gay marriage did exist as late as the 18th century.” ,…,

    “Professor Boswell discovered that in addition to heterosexual marriage ceremonies in ancient church liturgical documents (and clearly separate from other types of non-marital blessings of adopted children or land) were ceremonies called, among other titles, the “Office of Same Sex Union” (10th and 11th century Greek) or the “Order for Uniting Two Men” (11th and 12th century). That certainly sounds like gay marriage.” ,…,

    “One Greek 13th century “Order for Solemnization of Same Sex Union,” having invoked St. Serge and St. Bacchus, called on God to “vouchsafe unto these Thy servants grace to love another and to abide unhated and not cause of scandal all the days of their lives, with the help of the Holy Mother of God and all Thy saints.” The ceremony concludes: “And they shall kiss the Holy Gospel and each other, and it shall be concluded.” ,…,

    •’When Same-Sex Marriage Was A Christian Rite’: [Excerpts] (

    “Contrary to myth, Christianity’s concept of marriage has not been set in stone since the days of Christ, but has constantly evolved as a concept and ritual.” ,…,

    “Records of Christian same sex unions have been discovered in such diverse archives as those in the Vatican, in St. Petersburg, in Paris, in Istanbul and in the Sinai, covering a thousand-years from the 8th to the 18th century.” ,…,

    “While homosexuality was technically illegal from late Roman times, homophobic writings didn’t appear in Western Europe until the late 14th century. Even then, church-consecrated same sex unions continued to take place.” ,…,

    “Prof. Boswell’s academic study is so well researched and documented that it poses fundamental questions for both modern church leaders and heterosexual Christians about their own modern attitudes towards homosexuality. For the Church to ignore the evidence in its own archives would be cowardly and deceptive. The evidence convincingly shows that what the modern church claims has always been its unchanging attitude towards homosexuality is, in fact, nothing of the sort. It proves that for the last two millennia, in parish churches and cathedrals throughout Christendom, from Ireland to Istanbul and even in the heart of Rome itself, homosexual relationships were accepted as valid expressions of a God-given love and committment to another person, a love that could be celebrated, honored and blessed, through the Eucharist in the name of, and in the presence of, Jesus Christ.”

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