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The state and the union: should the government get out of the marriage business?

In April, Vermont and Iowa effectively legalized gay marriage. State courts and legislatures are hotly debating a number of civil rights issues for gays and lesbians. My own interest was piqued when I heard that my home state of California passed Proposition 8, which amended the state constitution to ban same-sex marriage; the amendment is now being challenged before the California Supreme Court.

So when I received an invitation in February to a public hearing about Hawaii's House Bill 444--which would have extended the same rights, benefits, protections, and responsibilities of spouses in a marriage to partners in a civil union--I enthusiastically clicked "will attend." It seems to me that civil unions--renaming a legally recognized intimate relationship to allow religious institutions to retain their hold on the title "marriage"--could be a decent compromise in the eyes of the law.

I am not certain that I even support the government's jurisdiction in such intimate spiritual matters as marriage to begin with. I'm not the only one: In March, two law professors at Pepperdine, a Christian university in Malibu, wrote an open letter to California's court urging it to settle the Proposition 8 fracas by simply getting the state out of the marriage recognition business entirely, using the term "civil unions" for government recognition of partnerships, straight or gay.

"Marriage is of religious origin; it should remain there," wrote Douglas W. Kmiec, who voted for Proposition 8, and Shelley Ross Saxer, who voted against it. (Their boss, Pepperdine law dean Kenneth Starr, who defended Proposition 8 before the state high court, argues that Kmiec and Saxer's solution is outside the court's power.) Thinking along the same lines, two southern California students started a grassroots campaign to get a proposition on California's 2010 ballot replacing the word "marriage" with "domestic partnership" in all state law.

When I went to the hearing about Hawaii's civil unions bill, I was expecting an invigorating debate. What I got was something much less. What I found entirely unacceptable, as a citizen and especially as an evangelical Christian, were a few self-described Christians basing their opposition on the idea that Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed because of people "like that." I heard the morality of same-sex couples compared to pedophilia, rape, and polygamy.

FOR THOSE WHO HAVE succumbed to the misconception that Sodom and Gomorrah's downfall was caused by homosexuals, I turn your attention beyond Genesis 18 and 19 (which indicate simply that 10 righteous people could not be found) to Ezekiel 16:49-51, where the Lord says that Israel's sin was worse than those of Sodom and Samaria:

Now this was the sin of your sister Sodom: She and her daughters were arrogant, overfed and unconcerned; they did not help the poor and needy. They were haughty and did detestable things before me. Therefore I did away with them as you have seen. Samaria did not commit half the sins you did. You have done more detestable things than they.

In Genesis 18 and 19, sexual immorality is nowhere described as the cause of the downfall of the city, but merely as a condition present at its destruction. Instead of proof-texting our beliefs, perhaps we might try walking humbly alongside our neighbors, honoring the image of God within each of us regardless of our orientation. Shouldn't we allow fellow image-bearers to sort out their own salvation with fear and trembling?

As a threat to "the fabric of society," it seems absurd to compare homosexual practice to poverty, violence, and consumerism. Let's focus some of our energy on pressing issues like these before wasting such precious resources on things such as Proposition 8--the amount spent on that effort was second only to the spending on the race for president.

I don't doubt that those who protested the House bill at Hawaii's capitol are sincere, but I do question their biblical literacy. It seems to me that civil unions restore justice to our society by providing equity under the law, and state legislators should recognize this as well. Ultimately, I hope the church is able to learn from her own troubled past and move forward, not with judgment but with contrite hearts.

Logan Laituri is a six-year Army veteran who spent time with the military in Iraq as well as serving with Christian Peacemaker Teams in Israel and the West Bank. Laituri, an active member of Iraq Veterans Against the War, blogs at
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Title Annotation:HUMAN RIGHTS
Author:Laituri, Logan
Publication:Sojourners Magazine
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 1, 2009
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