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More issues ...
So, Who's Getting Married
in New Jersey?
only one way that Civil Union will ever mean Marriage. Ask banished Roger
Williams, founder of Rhode Island, he'll tell you. It's simple. If the New
Jersey legislature votes for gay civil unions the marriage is simply this:
the Magistrates of Trenton will have officially decided to be at long last
married to the Evangelical Religious Right who has been courting the state
for legal sectarian recognition since the days of the Moral Majority. The
Evangelicals unashamedly desire to be excluded from the First Amendment
restriction of no marriage between the church and state. They want to be
married to Trenton and to as many other state capitals as possible. They
want to maintain their heterosexist elitism (Rogers, 2006, pp 96-98) by
means of a political-religious marriage of church and state (White, 2006,
p125). And now the day has come that New Jersey must decide. It's either
wedding bells for gay couples or the marriage of the Trenton Magistrates
to Evangelicals. Either way someone's getting married.
But you may argue, "Isn't that the point of Civil Unions, a compromise?"
The argument is this: Trenton can tip its hat to Evangelicals by giving
equal "marriage rights" to gays and calling it Civil Union, thereby keeping
the valued "currency" that the word "marriage" psychologically and socially
holds fully invested in the heterosexual sector. By doing this, Trenton
can, in the name of great politics, pride itself in modeling tolerance.
After all, isn't tolerance the American way?
Not exactly what the banished Roger Williams of 1635 would say.
The following quote (Adams, 1982, pp 89-92) is very timely and much
needed. It comes from a lecture given over 150 years ago by a Baptist
minister to his Caldwell, New Jersey, congregation. He wanted them to
understand the banished Roger Williams' teachings on religious liberties.
"Many consider toleration to be synonymous with religious liberty. It
isn't. Toleration is the allowance of that which is not wholly approved.
If the right to tolerate exists in man, then the right to prohibit, and
to dictate to the conscience must also exist with it, and thus toleration
becomes merely another name for oppression. Baptists have always strenuously
contended for the acknowledgment of this principle, and have labored to
"Civil Union," therefore, with all the "rights of marriage" without
the title of "Marriage" is "the allowance of that which is not wholly
approved" and therefore "becomes merely another name for oppression."
It's an historic Baptist principle. As irony would have it, the Evangelical
Religious Right are, for a sizable part, Baptist in name or in kind.
According to professor emeritus of history at the University of California,
for Roger Williams (who is often referred to as the founder of the First
Baptist Church in America), "liberty was more than toleration, freedom
more than a concession" (Gaustad, 1991, p.196).
Civil Unions for gays and lesbians is not freedom, it is toleration;
marriage is equality and therefore freedom. Civil Unions for gays is a
concession; it is not civil liberties. (Myers and Scanzoni, 2005, p119.)
This is what every New Jersey legislator needs to tell the religious conservative
of his or her district. It needs to be said simply because this principle
comes right from the very religious heritage that the Religious Right
wants to uphold and maintain which, therefore, puts them on the horns
of a dilemma: They can't deny homosexuals their civil liberties by denying
them marriage and at the same time uphold their religious heritage. Not
if they stand squarely with the esteemed, banished Roger Williams.
Since the Magistrates of the Bay Colony of Massachusetts were legally,
once and for all, solemnly married to the Evangelicals of their day, Roger
Williams, by Court order (1635), had to take his dissenting beliefs and
forever remove himself from the colony. Lucky for us. His banishment gave
the world religious freedom (Gaustad, 1991, p212). Did you know that the
Magistrates of the Bay Colony and Rev. John Cotton, the Evangelical Boston
preacher of his day, condemned Williams' ideas of liberty as direct from
the devil himself (Fish, 1983, pp 57-59)? They said his ideas were a threat
to the very foundation of the settlement and prosperity of the Bay Colony
(Gaustad, 1991, p27). How ironic. Evangelicals are saying the same thing
today of homosexuals (White, 2006) with the same intent of banishment
- not from a state, but from an institution - the institution of marriage.
There's a wedding coming in New Jersey and all of America is invited.
Only we don't know yet who's getting married. Either the church to the
state or same-sex couples to one another (as it should be). Let's hope
Trenton chooses liberty over toleration and gay marriage over Evangelical
sectarianism. And there is hope! After all, Massachusetts, the onetime
colony of civil Magistrates who enforced ecclesiastical laws, wasn't about
to make that mistake again when it came to same-sex marriage in the 21st
century. Yes, marriage bells are ringing in the good old Bay Colony for
gay couples. Why? Because there was, some time ago, a much needed divorce
in Massachusetts. The marriage just wasn't working . . . so the state
divorced the church. That's right; the state-church marriage was dissolved
in 1833. Just as it should be. Ask Roger Williams, the great defender
of individual liberties for everyone. He's no longer banished from Massachusetts.
ThB, MDiv. is the executive director of Other
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