Friday, December 4, 2009
It's Not the State's Role to Define Marriage
Christine Todd Whitman
November 29, 2009
What does government have to do with marriage?
I was brought up to believe that we had a constitutional separation between church and state -- intentionally designed by the founding fathers so they could not tell us what our churches, synagogues, and mosques could and could not do. If that is the case, why are legislators across the country, and most recently in New Jersey, agonizing over bills to define marriage?
Wouldn't it be better if government's only role were to recognize the legal relationship between two consenting adults -- something that occurs when you get your marriage license? Let's call that license something other than a "marriage" license and leave the government's role there.
If a couple wants to declare their lifelong commitment in a religious setting, and a church, mosque or synagogue will perform the service -- whether heterosexual or same-sex -- so be it.
Critics will claim I do not have an appropriate view of the institution of marriage. Quite the contrary -- I see marriage as a sacred commitment that I have happily upheld in the 35 years I have been married to my husband. Similarly, as an elder in my church, I have a deeply held view of houses of worship: I believe this country was founded with the intention of providing, and should continue to protect, our freedom to practice the religion of our choice without the intrusion of the state.
Nowhere is this liberty more important than in the fundamental structure of life and family -- the lifelong commitments that undergird our society.
Marriages should take place in a house of worship where the state is left at the door.
Aside from my view of the proper role of government in this issue, there are numerous, more pertinent issues facing our country that should be occupying our legislators' attention. It is time to put this argument behind us and get our elected representatives to focus on spending, taxes, education, health care and the myriad of other issues affecting our everyday lives.
We would all be better of if we leave the definition of marriage to our houses of worship, and make the state follow suit.
Christine Todd Whitman was governor of New Jersey 1994-2001.