January 31, 2010 Des Moines Register:

Guest column by CONNIE RYAN TERRELL-executive director of the Interfaith Alliance of Iowa. Contact: connie@interfaithallianceiowa.org

In any public conversation, that which defines us is the manner in which we debate. Do we do so with integrity and civility, or not? The Jan. 24 guest essay in the Register by Bryan English argued that Iowans have a right to vote to allow or to ban same-sex marriage. However, English’s article distorted important facts.

Regardless of the religious right’s attempts to rewrite history, marriage has always been an organic, ever-changing institution. Even Biblical literalists must acknowledge that marriage has changed throughout history as humanity and our critical-thinking skills evolved. What marriage looked like in Old Testament times is a far cry from marriage today.

One cannot honestly argue that “traditional marriage” is the only form of marriage ever to exist. Historically, women were, and in some countries still are, treated as property with no rights. In our country, interracial marriage was forbidden only a few short decades ago. The institution of marriage changed due to the pressure from those who understood a more progressive future. The government then interrupted the socially accepted norms by changing the laws. Thankfully, our society understands the value of change.

What role should religion play in this discussion? Let’s be clear. The public debate on same-sex marriage is about civil marriage, not sacred marriage. Those who argue against civil marriage equality do so solely from their particular religious perspective. They have a right to their religious belief, they just cannot write it into our civil law. Thankfully, the U.S. and Iowa Constitutions are very clear on this point.

History proves that differences in civil law and religious beliefs can cohabitate. For example, there are faith traditions that disagree with civil laws that sanction divorce. Our state and U.S. Constitutions protect the rights of religious institutions to handle divorce according to their beliefs. However, civil law stands as the law of the land. Religious liberty is our most precious freedom. If we can agree on nothing else, let us at least agree to protect faith and freedom in our state and country.

Those who publicly rally against same-sex marriage most often speak from their faith, usually as Christians. They typically assert that their faith speaks with one voice on the subject, and those who disagree are not true believers. It is an arrogant assertion. People of faith span the full spectrum of beliefs on this and many other social issues. Whether Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Unitarian Universalist, Sikh, or any other, there is no unanimous understanding in any faith. We see things through the lenses of our life’s experience and we interpret from that.

Regardless, the differences between people of faith are secondary in the discussion on civil marriage. This is a societal conversation about access to civil rights and responsibilities. Do we as a society believe all people have equal protection under the law? Or, do we as a society believe in an institutionalized class system defining the haves and the have-nots?

Years ago, the Iowa Legislature passed a marriage law that clearly disregarded the Iowa Constitution’s equal protection clause. The Iowa Supreme Court used its rightful powers to dismantle that unconstitutional law. The religious right disingenuously asserts the Supreme Court overstepped its authority. Their current tactic is to contend that elected officials are blocking the public’s right to vote.

Since when has Iowa ever placed the rights of others on the public chopping block?

When have we ever dissolved the rights of a group of people by adding discrimination to our Constitution?

As the public discussion continues on civil marriage equality, let us do so with integrity and civility. Scare tactics, distorting history and perpetuating myths never serve the public’s best interest. This can only be ensured when the rights of all are equally protected by our government and by each of us.

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  • Judith

    Well said!!!!

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