To the editor:
In his recent op-ed piece opposing the Marriage Amendment, Pastor Grant Stevensen stated: "This amendment would dictate to all churches who they can and cannot marry in their congregation, unnecessarily mixing religion and politics in our constitution. A no vote ensures that we don't tell churches what they can and can't do."
Though there is an element of truth in this argument, at its core it is false.
When a minister performs a normal wedding ceremony, the minister serves in two capacities. In such a wedding, the minister functions both as a servant of the church and as an agent of the state.
As a servant of the church, he is functioning as a spiritual leader who brings to the ceremony whatever that particular religious group attaches to the ceremony. As an agent of the state, he performs certain duties (such as seeing to it that the marriage certificate is signed, witnessed, and delivered to the courthouse) that ensure that all of the state's requirements of a valid marriage are met.
Under current state law, a church and its minister may perform whatever ceremonies they like. They may, if they like, perform ceremonies of union and commitment for same-sex couples. They may call these ceremonies whatever they like. Even marriage. That is part of the free exercise of religion under our Constitution.
In these same-sex ceremonies, however, they are acting only on behalf of the church. They are not acting as agents of the state.
The Marriage Amendment will do nothing to limit or inhibit any church's free exercise of religion. Every church will maintain the freedom to define and engage in its own religious observances. At the same time, the amendment maintains the state's right to define for itself what it will consider a legally valid marriage.
Michael A. Thom