One of the legends surrounding the saint whose day we recognize as Valentine's Day was that he was a priest who defied Roman law.
As the story goes, there was enough Imperial anxiety about the readiness of the Roman Legion that the Emperor implemented a new policy to increase the focus of his troops: new recruits and currently single soldiers were to remain single. Why? Because unmarried soldiers could concentrate on soldiering without the distraction of pining away for the wife and kids.
Despite the decree that went out forbidding soldiers to marry, love-struck legionnaires appealed to Fr. Valentine to defy the Imperial edict and marry them anyway. Moved by the obvious love between these men and women, Valentine defied the government and married the couples in secret. When Valentine's defiance was discovered, he was summarily executed.
Today, imperially minded politicians, egged on by religious conservatives, are denying American citizens their basic right to marriage. Although claiming to be informed by God, they are simply using God as a patsy to support their own agenda of discrimination and prejudice.
Mind you, "God" has been wrong before -- on slavery, women's rights, civil rights and more. Yet the "God told me so" argument still gets traction. From the Inquisition's Cardinal Ximenes to the Puritans' execution of Quakers on Boston Common, Christians have always manipulated God to justify their own misguided intolerance of minorities. Many of those who seek to "protect marriage" today are practitioners of the same religious bigotry, plain and simple.
In fact, prior to 1967, laws in this country prohibited interracial marriages. Religious opponents used the Bible to justify legalized discrimination that today would make Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- a black man married to a white woman -- a felon.
As the Supreme Court seems poised to rule on the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA) this summer, it's good to keep in mind the history of government efforts to exclude a class of people from such a basic institution in our culture. Thousands of years ago it was Valentine's soldiers. Fifty years ago it was blacks and whites. Today it is gays and lesbians. Neither religious authorities or the government have ever succeeded in legislating with whom people fall in love.
On this Valentine's Day, it's good to remember that the Saint for whom the day is named was a martyr for marriage -- even marriage that the government decreed as illegal.