I had already been thinking a lot about marriage, and what it does and doesn’t mean legally, so the news, ferried to my unwitting eyes today by the magic of mutual Facebook friends, that my ex-husband got married in an “impromptu” wedding this last weekend sort of fit right into that mix.
The thing is, I’m obviously not a huge fan about how he behaves (or at least did behave) in a marriage, but I still support his right to get married. I support his right, as a man just shy of 41, to marry a girl in her early 20s. I support his right, as a deputy prosecutor, to marry the daughter of the county Sheriff. I don’t have to think it’s a great idea to support that right. I can even cringe at the thought that in this marriage, he may be insinuating himself into a position of greater political power over a town he has already not had a great record with, and still totally support his underlying right to marriage.
I support people’s rights to hypocritically get divorced and remarried as many times as Rush Limbaugh or Newt Gingrich. I support the right of murders, thieves, and those suffering from suicidal tendencies to enter into legal wedlock. I have to, if I believe in personal liberty and the US Constitution. And you know what? All of these people can get married. Convicted pedophiles can get married in the United States. Sociopaths can get married in the United States. Pathological liars can get married in the United States. You can marry your ex-wife’s daughter, your father’s ex-wife, your foster sister, and so on and so on. People of different races and cultures may marry one another. People of different faiths may marry one another. Really, any two consenting adults that are not legally married already can get married, as long as they’re not of the same gender or too closely related — and even that depends on which state you’re talking about.
This is because in the United States, marriage is not a sacrament. It is about as close as you can get to a fundamental right, a contract of sorts between two people, with legal ramifications. The United States is not a Christian nation, and I would argue based on the very first words of the Bill of Rights that it was never intended to be. The Founding Fathers were attempting to shape a nation unlike those that the American immigrants had so recently come out of: ones in which, in the name of Christianity, Puritans, Anabaptists, Catholics, Jews, those suspected of witchcraft and so on were slaughtered for heresy — sometimes in religious wars, sometimes in the public square. In the centuries and decades just previous to the founding of the United States, the drawbacks of forcing citizens into one religious mold would have been quite apparent. Hence, I sincerely doubt it is accidental that these first words run “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” This was meant to be a safeguard against anyone who came to power and wanted to enshrine the tenets of any particular religion (or religious sect) into law, be that Mormonism, Islam, Christianity, or Hinduism; be that Catholic, Baptist, or Neo-Puritan.
But, because of the second clause of the Bill of Rights, people of all of these religious persuasions are free to worship as they please. They are free to perform, or not perform, religious marriage ceremonies that are considered sacramental by their congregants. They are free to limit these ceremonies to non-divorcees, or virgins, or white people. Many churches require pastoral counseling before they will marry you. Some require a statement of faith. They can require that. That’s their right.
And although these two clauses have created a certain amount of tension over the decades — after all, they cover freedom from, and freedom of, religion, which are vastly different in focus — they are both necessary for a nation that adheres to personal liberty. And if that is not the nation you want, then you’re looking in the wrong place.