OP-ED: What's love got to do with it?


The Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage did not have anything to do with sex, or feelings or emotions like "love". Those (gasp) things exist just as much in heterosexual relationships as in homosexual ones.

The ruling is not about love; it is about discrimination by civil authorities. Religious organizations can continue to define marriage as a sacred or sacramental relationship between a man and a woman; they can continue to exclude same-sex partnerships from their religious definition of sacred or sacramental marriage on the simple basis that religious marriage is defined by religions, not by civil government — and civil government does not give a hoot about religious definitions. (Religion does not always think that "love" is important, particularly in arranged marriages.)

The ruling is limited to the civil rules about who can obtain a civil marriage "license." Licensing of marriage did not exist in biblical antiquity. It is a modern civil concept. Not too long ago, it was used to prevent spread of disease — by requiring blood tests before license issuance. It also followed ancient rules of consanguinity, to prevent in-breeding (which was justified as a way of protecting offspring from inbred deficiencies).

Some people did not bother with the license. They co-habited or they entered into "common-law" marriage (no longer recognized in Pennsylvania). However, without the license that officially recognized the marriage for civil purposes (if performed by an acceptable celebrant like a judge or clergyman, and witnessed), those people were not entitled to civil benefits like equitable distribution of marital property, custody of children, inheritance rights, Social Security spousal benefits or children's survivor's benefits. Their children were "out-of-wedlock" and referred to as bastards, also without rights that flowed from parentage in a licensed marriage.

Even churches — such as the Catholic Church to which I belong, which did not allow divorce from a sacramental marriage — nevertheless permitted and even encouraged congregants to claim their civil marital rights in civil divorce proceedings. They never allowed civil courts to dissolve sacramental marriages nor did civil authorities ever claim such power (except in England).

The Supreme Court did not result in any loss of rights to religion or heterosexuals, except the power to discriminate and deny statutory rights to same sex couples.

The real problem was that civil laws conferred rights and benefits (over a thousand) upon people who obtained a civil license. It did not confer those rights upon people who co-habit or who entered into a religious marriage without a civil license. And, therefore, some adults who wanted to enter into beneficial civil relationships not sanctioned by religions were excluded from those rights and benefits if civil governments refused to give them licenses. The benefits flowed from the license. Since this group included less than 5 percent of the population, majority rule perpetuated these denials and discriminations claiming that the religious definition of marriage controlled the civil law.

In a nation originated by people who objected to the rule of religion over civil government, this did not seem acceptable or constitutional.

That is what the Supreme Court ruled.

Civil law defines civil marriage and the rights and privileges flowing from it, regulated by recorded licensing; religion, which does not dispense civil benefits and percs, cannot prevent anyone from receiving civil rights; religion can simply refuse sacramental marriage, which does not confer civil rights. At the same time, civil government cannot discriminate just because the majority or some religious organizations want to.

So then, can people who have rock-solid religious beliefs discriminate against same-sex couples in business relationships? Baking wedding cakes? Wedding photos?

Business is regulated by civil law and receives civil benefits. Religion does not control business law. Membership in a religious group does not trump civil business authority. If a businessman wants to do business in civil forums, he cannot discriminate any more than restaurants could maintain "whites only" food counters, water fountains, bathrooms or bus seating.

That's democracy folks; discrimination is not allowable outside of the temple. Inside, that's your business; just like (gasp) your bedroom.

— Edward B. Golla is a resident of Springettsbury Township.