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Point: Equal protection before the law


Scott Jones June 25th, 2009

It was a beautiful, sunny evening on Saturday, June 6, as my husband, Michael, and I were married here in an Oklahoma City park in front of 200 of our family and close friends. The officiating Baptist...

It was a beautiful, sunny evening on Saturday, June 6, as my husband, Michael, and I were married here in an Oklahoma City park in front of 200 of our family and close friends. The officiating Baptist minister pronounced " emphatically, I might add " at the conclusion of the ceremony:

"With the power invested in me by God and God's holy church, I pronounce you partners in life in the covenant of holy matrimony. What God has joined together, let no one rend asunder."

Michael's Uncle Ken later made the observation, "It's interesting that you are married in the eyes of God, but those who deny you civil marriage do so for religious reasons."

It is an irony of this debate that marriage, as a religious sacrament, is granted to same-sex couples by many faith groups. More than one person asked us where we were going to get married. When I told them that we were staying here, they usually looked puzzled, so I had to explain that marriage is a sacrament of the church. The civil contract is another thing. And that no state can deny us our sacred blessing.

It is further ironic that current laws, like Oklahoma's, which try to define this religious sacrament, already violate the religious liberties of progressive denominations by refusing legal acknowledgment to their rituals " legal acknowledgment that the rituals of other denominations receive. 

But the debate over marriage, the religious sacrament, is not the same thing as the debate over marriage, the civil contract. No state law, whether for or against marriage equality, can legitimately define the sacraments of a religious group. This separation between the sacramental and the civil was so wisely stated by the Iowa Supreme Court earlier this year:

"Our constitution does not permit any branch of government to resolve these types of religious debates and entrusts to courts the task of ensuring government avoids them. "¦ As a result, civil marriage must be judged under our constitutional standards of equal protection and not under religious doctrines or the religious views of individuals."

Using that standard, the Iowa Supreme Court ruled that gays and lesbians were the subject of unfair discrimination, that "they are deprived of the benefits of the principle of equal protection upon which the rule of law is founded." 

Today, gays and lesbians in Iowa can receive full legal recognition of their relationships.  

As of this writing, six states recognize full marriage equality and a total of 16 states plus the District of Columbia grant some form of legal recognition to same-sex couples. 

Ted Olson, who was solicitor general for President George W. Bush and is one of the most respected conservative lawyers in the country, is now litigating a case in federal court arguing that states do not have the right to discriminate against same-sex couples when it comes to marriage.

"We believe this is the kind of matter where Americans must come together and recognize the rights of all citizens," Olson told The Associated Press.

My relationship now participates in the sanctity granted by God through the church. When will it receive its constitutionally mandated equality before the law?

Jones, who earned a summa cum laude degree in Bible at Oklahoma Baptist University, is the pastor of the Cathedral of Hope United Church of Christ in Oklahoma City.

Sally Kern's Counterpoint: Preserving traditional marriage

 
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