Guest Opinion: Bruce Diamond
Florida marriage amendment intrudes in private matters
Originally posted on November 19, 2007
Ft. Myers News Press
If the proposed state constitutional amendment regarding marriage appears on the November 2008 ballot, it will represent another blatant act of political mischief.
It is the handiwork of those very same cynical forces that brought us the Terri Schiavo state and national tragic legislative debacles. It reflects a heartless indecency and indifference to real people and their lives for the sake of a perceived short-term electoral advantage. It is a Trojan horse that only pretends to protect marriage, but, if ratified, will do it irreparable harm.
What is more, a constitution amendment regulating marriage would mark an unparalleled state intrusion into the private lives of its citizens, and an abrogation of the bedrock ideal of liberty that is at the foundation of the American vision of a just society.
If there is any good that might come from it, even circumstantially, it will be from a re-evaluation of the government’s proper role in the regulation of interpersonal relationships in general, and of marriage in particular.
In our secular form of government, marriage has always been regarded by the states as civil matter and an expression of contract law. State statutes define the lawful parameters of marriage contract, indicating that the parties to the contract must be of lawful age, of sound mind, and not bound by another pre-existing lawful marriage contract. The state’s sole legitimate interest is to safeguard a number of important property and probate matters, rather than establish and enforce any particular religious definitions of marriage, which is constitutionally beyond its reach.
The time has come for the government to completely bow out of the regulation of marriage, among the most significant interpersonal relationships. It would be far preferable for individuals to enter into lawful marriage contracts, and, if they desired, to register those contracts with their local clerk of courts as is done now with deeds.
As long as the contract is properly drawn and executed, it can be entered into the public record without prejudice. When contested, challenges and dissolutions of these marriages contracts will be heard by local courts, as is the case with any contract. Of course, they would also be free to participate in any religious marriage rituals of their choosing, without government intrusion and interference.
Our constitution and its amendments express some very powerful ideals over two centuries of evolving legal and social consciousness. These ideals, such as the universal right of all citizens to vote, the abolition of slavery and torture, and the solely secular role of government, have required time and careful deliberation to be made more explicit.
Now the time has come to “unpack” yet another important ideal implied by our form of government. It must be the right of otherwise unencumbered residents of these United States who are of lawful age and sound mind to freely enter into interpersonal contracts of their own choice and design. Individuals must be free to follow their own conscience, faith tradition and best judgement in interpersonal relationships without undue interference by the state.
—Bruce Diamond is rabbi at The Community Free Synagogue.