November 2012 Church & State | People & Events


Denying civil marriage equality to same-sex couples on theological grounds violates the separation of church and state, an Americans United activist in Minnesota opined recently.

Jonathan L. Eisenberg, an attorney and vice president the Minnesota chapter of Americans United for Separation of Church and State, penned a column on the topic for MinnPost, an online pub­lication that covers news from around the state. Eisenberg argued that the push to amend Minnesota’s Consti­tution to limit marriage to heterosexual couples is anchored in religious beliefs.

“The amendment is, at its core, an attempt to impose one specific religious view on all citizens,” Eisenberg wrote. “That is not the proper role of government under our First Amendment guarantees of free exercise and non-establishment of religion.

“The proposed amendment,” he con­tinued, “is based on conservative rel­igious views about homosexuality and ‘traditional’ marriage. Its supporters rely on select biblical passages that, by their interpretation, condemn homosex­ual relations and support the view that only male-female marriages are allowed.”

Minnesota is one of four states this year that faced a vote on a ballot measures limiting marriage to one man and one woman. (The other three were Maine, Maryland and Wash­­ington; this issue of Church & State went to press prior to Election Day.)

Eisenberg pointed out that some religions support same-sex marriage. Elevating the view of the opponents into law, he argued, results in government advocating for one religious perspective over another.

“The state should not be put in a position of choosing between competing religious views, or of imposing the beliefs of the religious on the non-religious,” Eisenberg wrote. “Not only Jefferson and President John F. Ken­nedy but also President James Madison, known as the ‘Father of the Bill of Rights,’ spoke of the benefits to both institutions of the ‘total separation of the Church from the State.’”

Eisenberg also debunked claims that marriage equality will force houses of worship to perform same-sex weddings.

“Often, proponents of the amendment claim that permitting same-gender marriages would force churches to marry same-gender couples against their religious doctrine, thus infringing on the free exercise of their religion,” he asserted. “Yet nothing in existing or proposed marriage-freedom laws does any such thing. The doctrine of separation of church and state would, in fact, prohibit the state from forcing churches to perform marriages that contradict their faith. In fact, churches are not required to perform any marriages. They can, therefore, decide which marriages they wish to perform.”