‘Traditional’ Marriage: A Secular Affair
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Published in: May-June 2005 issue.


AS THE WORLD reaches flash-point over same-sex marriage, the United States is galloping madly in one direction—to deny civil marriage to gays. Yet many countries in Europe are galloping in the opposite direction—towards giving civil status to same-sex relationships in some way. Europeans watch us warily from across the pond; many are convinced that Americans have gone collectively crazy as we let the religious right tie our laws in knots so they can achieve their homophobic goals.

No sooner had President Bush taken office for his second term than he urged Congress to pass the federal amendment defining marriage as a one-man, one-woman union. If passed, the amendment will permanently remove the definition of marriage from the reach of all courts and state legislatures. This amendment states: “Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union between a man and a woman.”

Ultra-conservative Christians insist that our nation will be destroyed if homosexuals are given access to marriage. Says one blogger: “The secular view of marriage … is driving this country over a cliff.” This blogger disapproves of civil marriage even for heterosexuals, because, he says, “The secular ‘economic’ view of the institution of marriage actually is a strong argument for those that seek to claim homosexual relationships are equivalent to marriage.”

Many Europeans would find the blogger’s rejection of secularism astonishing. Europe is heavily secularized today. Belgium and the Netherlands have legalized same-sex marriage, and Spain is well on its way to doing so. Denmark, Sweden, Norway, France, and Germany recognize civil unions. Portugal recognizes common-law marriages by GLBT people. Britain and Switzerland are considering legislation authorizing civil unions. “What is the matter with you Americans?” I was asked when I visited Spain in the fall of 2004. “Can’t you see what you’re heading into?”

Why is the U.S. so out of step with Europe?

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