In the last presidential campaign, conservative interviewers routinely asked candidates to “define ‘marriage’.” They were not looking for a definition of a word. That would have been made evident if one of the candidates had asked for a dictionary. They were, rather, masking their real intent, which was to determine whether the candidate was willing to restrict civil rights accorded to those who are married to unions of one man and one woman. So they were really asking whether the government should refuse to allow tax advantages and hospital visitation rights and other such benefits to any couple other than a heterosexual couple. Why these interviewers would not state their intent directly is a valid question. Perhaps it is much more appealing to the public to hide the fact that the interviewers and their supporters wanted to institutionalize discrimination against gays and lesbians. Perhaps they were just trying to be clever. Whatever their motive, they were most certainly not wanting legislation about a dictionary definition. One can only imagine the fun we would have with the legislature if we gave it the task of defining words. It would, I suppose, be a punishable act to refer to mayonnaise as a marriage of eggs and oil.

Clearly, then, all this clamor was not about defining words. Sadly, however, many true believers in whatever set of doctrines were deceived into thinking that it was about a definition, not, however, a definition provided by a legislature but rather a definition provided by a religion. The Archbishop of Milwaukee, for instance, was quoted as saying that the ruling was “a sad day for the sacrament of marriage.” We should, perhaps, forgive the archbishop for his apparent ignorance of the differnece between a religious statement and a legal statement. The court’s ruling in no way affects the Roman Catholic Church’s refusal to grant sacramental status to the marriage of same-sex couples. The Roman Catholic Church remains fully within its right to restrict access to its rituals to gays or lesbians or, for that matter, to any other category of humans against which it feels required to discriminate. So, for instance, it can continue to refuse to deny the sacrament of holy orders, priesthood, to all women simply because they are women. The laws of the United States allow for all of the peculiarities of the various religious cults, unless they interfere with the civil rights of others.

There lies the rub, and there lies one of the truly scary tendencies of some of the comments of those who oppose granting civil marital status to gays and lesbians. What these people are actually trying to do is to institutionalize their relgiious beliefs. Whether intentionally or not, they ignore the distinction between religion and government. They blur the line, or rather they attempt to erase the line, between the rules of government and the rituals of institutional religions. They threaten the very nature of governance in the United States. They pervert the United States’ commitment to the freedom of religion into an institutionalization of their own particular religion. One individual, a noted preacher, even had the nerve to state in public that the freedom of religion in America extended only to the “Christian” religion. One can only assume that, by the word “Christian”, he meant his peculiar version of that religion. Whatever he meant by his words, the inevitable effect of his view would be to destroy the American ideal and, as the consequence, the American way of governance. If such as he had their way, that would be a truly sad day.

The real effect, therefore, of the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage is precisely the opposite of what the opposing factions are decrying. Far from being a sad day for any ritual or any religious belief, it is a ratification of the right of all people to live their lives in accordance with their beliefs and their personal orientations, subject only to the fundamental American requirement that they allow all others that very same right. We hold these truths to be self-evident. We cannot conceive of a world without those rights. We have, no doubt, a long way to go, but at least we have not left the path.


The problems facing the people and the government of the United States are many. We are mired in a military campaign (War? Really? Against whom?) in the middle east that has been going on for more than a dozen years and to which there is no end in sight. We are deeply in debt with no realistic hope of getting out of it. We are suffering more and more poveerty, less and less opportunity for escape from that poverty, a collapse of the middle class and an accelerating rate of concentration of wealth in the hands of a few whose sole apparent interest is in accumulating more wealth. Our infrastructure is a scandal, our environment is on a path to chaos. We have a medical system that is bankrupting us, while a very loud segment of the political world decries any attempt to correct it. We are taking money away from health care, from education, from road repair, from public transportation, all to pay off the debt we are incurring by cutting taxes.

These are just a few of the problems, and they are just the political and financial problems. We have huge underlying problems with religion. Instead of being a source for moral decisions, it has become just another avenue of self-satisfaction. We don’t care that people are starving; we care about getting a good seat at the heavenly banquet. We have, therefore, huge problems with morality. We declare ourselves pro-life and at the same time endorse policies of killing people who are merely suspected of wrongdoing and we do not blink at the killing innocent civilians as “collateral damage.” We have completely forgotten the American ideal of recognizing inalienable rights in every human being and instead guide our actions by the single principle of self-interest.

There is a simple solution to our political and financial problems. Cut the military budget in half, raise taxes to the level in existence during the Clinton administration, and make as our largest expenditures fixing roads, installing a program of universal health care with accompanying limits on the amounts charged by pharmaceutical companies and those who manufacture medical devices and the elimination of all subrogation programs, and providing vastly increased funding to schools, colleges and universities to make education available to all. If that all sounds crazy to you, you might want to check with your neighbor. The vast majority of Americans approve of every one of these changes.

Most of all, though, the vast majority of Americans lust for a return to the American ideal. They truly want to see that opportunity remains open for all. They truly want every person in America to have the basic benefits of education and health care. And they most certainly want America to turn away from this mounting atmosphere of self-interest and return to the fundamental commitment to the inherent rights of all humans.

It is likely that we are in this position because each of us were lured away from our real meaning by the greed of the Koch Brothers types. However that happened, we need to return to that American ideal. The Latin word for turning is “volvo”, from which we get the word “Re-volution.” The survival of the American ideal rests on our willingness to make that turn.