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Marriage debate is about fairness, love

I disagree with opponents of marriage equality about a million things — perhaps even a million and three—but there’s one thing they’re right about. Marriage is sacred. Anything that harms it is a kind of blasphemy.

What makes it sacred, though?

Not the state. The state of Ohio has a lot going for it: a fine university system (as we know), the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, the great Black Swamp Arts Festival and a legislature that seems intent on making the gerrymander the official state lizard.

But, on its best day, the state of Ohio could not by legal action sanctify a baked potato.

That’s not how we run things in America. Separation of church and state was created, not so that the secular state could dominate over religion (as some believe, or pretend to believe) but so that religion could be free from state intrusions. If something is sacred, it is by definition beyond the reach of state action.

Arguably, the state should not be in the marriage business at all. In many societies, marriage is a private matter and the state only gets involved if there’s some sort of problem (e.g. a lawsuit).

When the state and the church were still uneasily inhabiting the same body, in the premodern period, parish records of birth, marriage and death had a state function, and that’s probably why we tend to think of marriage as having something to do with the government (a notion which would have surprised an ancient Roman).

While it remains in the marriage business, though, the state has a legal obligation to be fair. But in many states, including Ohio, the state plays favorites—letting some couple get married and refusing the right to others. Parental rights, insurance coverage, decisions about health care: legal spouses have privileges in these areas (and others) which are denied couples who are not married.

If a couple chooses to not get married, that’s on them. But if the state denies a couple the right to marry, it’s acting like a bouncer at a nightclub, arbitrarily allowing some into the privileged space but not others. This is not what we pay the government for.

Suddenly, surprisingly, things seem to be changing throughout America and in Ohio. As recently as 2004, Ohioans enshrined bigotry in our state constitution by banning same-sex marriage and any conceivable substitute for it in the form of a civil union or legally recognized domestic partnership.

Support for the “Marriage Amendment” was overwhelming: more than 60 percent of votes cast, according to the Ohio Secretary of State.

Now there’s a movement afoot to repeal that amendment and give the right of marriage to many couples in Ohio who are currently denied that right. And, remarkably, the measure is getting strong public support.

Recent polls show that now 54 percent of Ohioans support the new marriage equality amendment and only 40 percent oppose it.

Maybe that’s because the amendment itself is so eminently reasonable. It grants marriage equality without impinging on the freedom of religion.

You don’t have to be for gay marriage to support the amendment. You just have to be for fairness — for the right of spouses to care for each other and their children, even if they’re not like you.

The state, after all, cannot sanctify marriage. Only love can sanctify marriage and only hate can harm it.

Support love, fairness and marriage equality in Ohio.

Respond to James at

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