Marriage has both a religious and a secular purpose. The California Court’s decision to allow same sex marriages would affect the secular aspect, not the religious aspect. Yet, almost every argument I have heard against same sex marriages has been based on religious grounds. This is despite the fact that our Constitution has a clear injunction against promoting particular religious beliefs (colloquially known as the separation of church and state). During the campaign, those who favor denying same sex marriage talk of that this is going beyond tolerance and forcing them to recognize such marriages. They are correct there. This is the same argument racist Southerners used in opposing civil right laws of the 1960s when they were forced to recognize African-Americans as full citizens, with the same rights as everyone else. On the other hand, there is nothing in the legal recognition of such marriages that would force their church to recognize or perform such marriages. Allowing the State to recognize same sex marriages maintains the separation of church and state. Disallowing it does not.
Does the State have an interest in allowing such marriages, beyond the argument of civil right and fairness? It does. For instance, often gay couples raise children together. Without the right to marry, if the “official” parent dies, the “unofficial” parent has no legal right to continue to raise the child. This means that a child in such circumstances often not only goes through the trauma of losing the parent who dies, but also being taken away from the person best in a position to offer support, and a normal continuation of their life. This further traumatizes such children. Another purpose is for care of the sick and elderly. With no legal status, it is difficult for gay and lesbian partners to help in the care of their sick or elderly partners, which can put the burden on the State.
Our Declaration of Independence states, “All men are created equal.” It took us over 150 years to extend that to include women and almost 200 years to include African-Americans in the promise, if not the reality, of that equality. Now when the California Supreme court has said that such an idea should also apply to the Gay and Lesbian members of our society, others want to continue to deny such equality. They argue that a majority should have the right to tell a minority how to live their lives. This is a mistaken belief that democracy is majority rule. That type of majority rule can also be known as tyranny of the majority. A Constitutional democracy protects the rights of the minority against the persecution by the majority. It is on exactly those grounds that our State Supreme Court ruled.
Do we want to follow the example of countries like Iran which impose one set of religious beliefs on all citizens, or do we want to live up to the promise of our Constitution that we are all created equal, deserve equal rights, and no group should be able to impose their religious beliefs on others?