Separate Church From State and Guarantee Religious Liberty

Since the Supreme Court ruled section 3 of the Defense of Marriage Act is unconstitutional, there has been a loud hue and cry from some religious conservatives. They are now complaining the next step in the so-called attack on their " religious liberty" will be a government requirement for clergy to solemnize marriage for same gender couples. This, in spite of the fact that all states with marriage equality laws specifically exempt from performing same gender marriages those religions that maintain marriage is only between "one man and one woman."

These religious conservatives are not satisfied with the "religious liberty" protections enshrined in the 1st Amendment of our Constitution. They want an absolute guarantee that their religious beliefs will be accommodated at the expense of all other freedoms. They feign fear of another Supreme Court interpretation of the Constitution that will not be to their liking, or in line with the tenets of their particular faith.

Clergy have long performed marriages as an official state function, and many consider it a matter of power, prestige and authority. In most states, ordained or duly appointed clergy conduct a religious rite called Holy Matrimony, Holy Union, or simply a Church Wedding. Following this purely religious event, in the presence of witnesses, the minister signs the state issued marriage license, acting in an official capacity as an officer of the state. Without the required clergy endorsement, the state license would not be valid. In other words, clergy members now act as official agents of the state by being a critical part of the process that provides legal recognition of marriages by the state. This long-standing practice is arguably an entanglement of church and state, the proverbial fly in the ointment, and one that can easily be corrected. The remedy? As in other countries, such as Germany, the couple would simply obtain their state marriage license at a local courthouse, along with an official marriage certificate, and then if they choose, thereafter arrange for a religious ceremony. Doesn't this solve the same gender marriage controversy once and for all?

Another option is for all faith groups to get out of the civil marriage business altogether. Marriage licenses and decrees would be left to the discretion of appropriate state authorities, with clergy no longer acting as officers of the state to endorse civil marriage documents. To further "bullet proof" their freedom to practice the tenets of their faith without government intrusion, these faith groups should relinquish their tax-exempt status as qualified 501(c)3 organizations. By taking these two simple steps, faith groups, regardless of their beliefs, would be free of needless entanglement with the state, and religious leaders could never be "forced" to conduct same gender weddings, because religious marriage ceremonies would be left to the discretion of autonomous faith groups. Marriage rites would be grounded in the sincerely held beliefs and practices of respective faith groups. With civil marriage and religious rites totally separate, the state would be powerless to demand compliance with state marriage equality laws. Furthermore, giving up their tax exempt status would allow all faith groups unfettered freedom to preach and teach according to the dictates of their conscience, without needless fear of governmental intervention.

Now, for a reality check. Does anyone really think hard line conservative faith groups, and their influential religious leaders, would embrace such common sense steps, and willingly give up their power and authority to sanction civil marriage? Does anyone believe they would abandon their tax-exempt status in order to preach whatever they wanted without fear of government interference? Of course not, because they already have it both ways.