Tradition vs. values | Editorial
By REV. MARK TRAVIS
Mercer Island Reporter Contributor
August 24, 2010 · Updated 3:40 PM
The first sign off exit 7A on I-90 reads, “Headlights?” Every time I see it, I wonder, is it asking me if my headlights are on or off? It seems like a sign that no longer pertains to the technology of modern cars whose lights shut off automatically or state law mandating that motorcycles keep them on. If the sign no longer makes sense, why still have it?
There are many things we do today that no longer hold meaning or whose meaning has changed with the evolution of society. For example, why are elections held mostly in November and on Tuesdays? According to Sandi Duncan, managing editor of the Farmers Almanac, this system was set in 1845, a time when we were mostly an agrarian society. November was chosen because harvesting season was over. Tuesday was chosen so that travel and voting would not interfere with Sunday worship. Even though we don’t need to keep this schedule anymore, many municipalities have maintained November and Tuesdays as voting days (even though Saturdays would be a lot easier).
One of the biggest questions regarding marriage is whether same-gender couples should be able to receive the civil rights and protections of marriage that opposite gender couples enjoy. I personally see no problem with this. The main purpose of marriage is for two people to publicly proclaim their love and commitment to each other and to have their relationship protected by state and federal laws. Whether or not a couple decides to have children in no way affects their emotional, spiritual or legal standing as married couples. In my view, God does not care what gender the two souls embody when entering marriage. History is filled with moments of pain and oppression when one religious or cultural group forces their beliefs and doctrines upon another group. The passionate supporters of slavery used their religion to defend and support that evil practice. A large number of groups used their religious beliefs to fight against a woman’s right to vote in the turn of the 20th century. In the 1950s a number of religious preachers spoke out against interracial marriages and desegregation. One of the great elements of our country is that we are governed by civil laws and not theological doctrine. No one individual or group has the right to limit another individual’s life, liberty or pursuit of happiness.
One of our values is the separation of church and state. When clergy sign civil marriage licenses, it is a clear violation of this separation. By allowing clergy to do this, the state supports discrimination. There are a number of clergy who will not perform a marriage for heterosexual couples who are not members of their congregation, who have different religious or non-religious beliefs or because the couple is already living together. Clergy are not allowed to sign death certificates, even though we perform the funerals. Clergy are not allowed to sign divorce papers, even though we perform the marriages. A judge or civil servant should be the only one allowed to sign a civil marriage license.
The banning of gay and lesbian couples from obtaining the civil rights and responsibilities of marriage is just as outdated as a sign asking me if my lights are on or off.
Rev. Mark W. Travis is the pastor of the Congregational Church on Mercer Island.