Why I Will Vote against Texas HJR 6, the "Texas Marriage Amendment"

Sunday, 25 September 2005

Recently I have received a few copies of an e-mail encouraging all Christians to support the Texas Marriage Amendment, which will amend the Texas Constitution to define marriage as being exclusively between one man and one woman. Since one of the e-mails was sent to a large group of people in my church, I decided to send a reply to all of them detailing my reasons for voting against the amendment. Those reasons are given below. I should note that, because I am a Baptist and belong to a Baptist church, I emphasized the "Baptist" principle of religious liberty in my e-mail. Of course, many other Christians, as well as people of other faiths, also endorse the principle of religious liberty.

I for one plan to vote AGAINST this proposed amendment to the state constitution, for two reasons.

First, the Baptist principle of religious liberty prompts me to vote against it. Only the church is competent to make theological decisions about which two people are entitled to marry one another. Some churches require both marriage partners to be members of the same denomination. Some refuse to marry people who have been divorced. Some only perform heterosexual marriages. Some also perform marriages between same-sex couples. In the past, many churches refused to marry people who were not of the same race. It is not the job of the state to tell any church that it must or must not marry any two people. From a theological point of view, the state is incompetent to make such a determination. It is the responsibility of each church and/or denomination to decide whom to marry and whom to reject.

Second, my commitment to the principles of fairness and equality before the law prompts me to vote against it. Only the state is competent to make legal decisions about which two people are entitled to enter into contracts of many sorts, including "personal partnership" contacts (whether called "marriage" or "civil union"). A personal partnership contract gives partners many rights concerning the other person that are not shared by those outside this partnership. Some of these rights include the right to file joint tax returns, the right to name each other as beneficiaries on life and health insurance policies, the right to visit one another in the hospital, the right not to be forced to testify against one another in court, and the right to make difficult end of life decisions for one another. The state is required by the U.S. and state constitutions to enforce laws and contracts without discrimination (e.g., the Equal Protection provision of the 14th Amendment). The church may discriminate on the basis of religion, race, sex (gender), nationality, sexual orientation, or on any other basis it likes. The state may not.

In short, I believe that this amendment is an attempt to confuse the proper roles of the church and the state and to enshrine in the Texas Constitution discrimination based on sexual orientation. For both these reasons I oppose the proposed amendment. I know that many Christians will disagree with my point of view, but I know that many others will agree. Maybe there are some who are either undecided or who have never heard a counter-argument, so I hope those people will consider these arguments carefully and prayerfully. In any case, Christians need to hear that there are two sides to the issue (at least).

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Progressive Theology