April 12, 2007
First they came for gay marriage

I'm going to defer to Rep. Garnet Coleman, as quoted in this story from yesterday, for saying what should be said about Rep. Warren Chisum's desire to meddle with marriage.

While Republicans long have decried the "nanny state" of liberal social safety nets, some House Democrats now complain about the GOP meddling into highly personal decisions they say are best left to individuals.

Rep. Garnet Coleman, D-Houston, said that when he married a woman who's Catholic, he readily agreed to participate in the church's "engaged encounter" class and parenting classes tied to his children's baptisms.

"I just don't think that's something the government ought to coerce," Coleman said. "It's truly getting into someone's marriage bed. It's the state going beyond what I think its role is and intervening or coercing or penalizing someone who's seeking to get married."

Before we got married, Tiffany and I had to undergo some premarital counseling at our church. It wasn't a class, but a couple of meetings with one of the deacons, and it involved each of us filling out this long questionnaire that dealt with each other's attitudes about things like money, faith, children, sexuality, housework, and so on. Both it and the talks with the deacon were designed to ensure that the two of us knew what we were getting into, and who we were getting into it with, as well as to ensure that we had a framework for communication regarding the places where we disagreed. Though he could easily tell it wasn't an issue in our case, the deacon made it clear that our church reserved the right to deny us a marriage bann if they felt we didn't meet their criteria.

And that's as it should be. The Catholic Church has a vested interest in seeing the marriages it sanctions succeed. Marriage isn't just a celebration to the Church, it's a sacrament, and it is not to be undertaken lightly. If you want to get married in the Catholic Church, or in any other faith, you have to agree to and abide by their rules.

Whether you agree to those rules or not, there is a second aspect to one's marriage, and that's the civil aspect. At its heart, that's a legal arrangement between two people in which certain default benefits are conferred; for example, Tiffany is now defined as my next of kin, in any situation where that question might arise and in which we haven't explicitly set it by other means. That little piece of paper we got from the Harris County Clerk's office brought with it rights and responsibilities for each of us. But it had no bearing on the church part of the equation.

I'm sure if I did a thorough search on everything that was said and done as Texas debated and then passed the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment of 2005, I'd find plenty of examples of politicians like Warren Chisum waxing poetically on the sanctity of marriage (this one is amusing if not on point). When they did, it was always apparent that they were conflating the ecumenical rite of marriage, for which any church has always had the right to choose who it does and does not bless, regardless of what the laws of the State of Texas may be, and the civil arrangement, which is just a contract between two consenting adults. I guess the lesson we take away from yesterday's House vote is that some people still haven't figured out the distinction. In doing so, it's heartening to see that they have aroused the ire of some actual conservatives, who, like me, don't understand why the state needs to duplicate the role of the church. I didn't understand it back in 2005 either, and would have appreciated a little more support from folks like them back then (there were some honorable exceptions), but I'll take what I can get. I should also note that arguments made yesterday about no-fault divorce and "protecting" children were also made by the proponents of the Double Secret Illegal Anti-Gay Marriage Amendment. In other words, we were warned.

One hopes that the Senate will have better things to do than play along with this nonsense (though with David Dewhurst's gubernatorial pandering, you never know). One also wonders what will be next for Chisum and his band of merry marriage meddlers. I do not look forward to finding out.

Posted by Charles Kuffner on April 12, 2007 to That's our Lege

As far as I am aware, no marriage has legal standing in our country unless you have a marriage certificate issued by a government. No church has anything to do with it.

My marriage certificate sits right next to my computer and it was issued by Clark County, Nevada. While I've done a good job, I hope, of upholding my marriage vows, I enjoy comments on how holy and sacred marriage is when the legal basis for my marriage was granted by the upright moral authority of Las Vegas, Clark County, Nevada.

I'm no libertarian, but people can get married for any reason they wish. If they wish to involve a church-- good for them. It's none of my concern.

The good thing about these silly ideas in the Texas Legislature, is that they alert parts of the Republican base to just how intrusive the social wing of the Republican party has become.

Posted by: TexasLiberal on April 12, 2007 11:54 AM

What is potentially worse about Chisum's proposal--apart from it being an unwelcome intrusion into private lives--is the waiting period on no fault divorce. Where no fault becomes more difficult to obtain, would be divorcees are more likely to raise more serious and more damaging allegations against each other in order to avoid delays in moving on with their lives. While I completely favor counseling for couples going through rocky times, it just can't be forced on a wholesale basis like this. Frankly, the entire course courts disaster.

Posted by: Iain S. on April 12, 2007 12:14 PM

I shudder to think what would have happened if I'd had to wait two years to divorce my ex. (He was remarried within 13 months of our decision to split--a bit more than 9 months after we were final.) I'm sure Warren Chisum would have loved my ex living in sin and me living in sin while we were waiting for the courts to let us get free of each other.

Posted by: Ginger Stampley on April 12, 2007 2:42 PM

Am I the only one who thinks this clunker of a bill wouldn't survive a court challenge? Doesn't the 14th Amendment require equal protection under the law? How could one class of citizens be charged one amount for a license and a different class another? And I want to thank Rep. Chisum for reminding voters why it is so important to return the Texas Legislature to Democratic control.

Posted by: Dennis on April 12, 2007 2:52 PM