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Jason Holliston
Monday, August 04, 2003  
Separation of Church and State

What is the proper role for the Church in secular societies? That's the question a lot of Catholics are asking themselves over the past few days after the Vatican released a 12-page document which, among other things, telling lawmakers point-blank that they must vote against equal marriage rights for homosexuals. Presidential contender John Kerry certainly came down on the State's side on things, saying (thanks Andrew Sullivan for the link):

"It is important not to have the church instructing politicians. That is an inappropriate crossing of the line in this country,'' Kerry said. ``President Kennedy drew that line very clearly in 1960 and I believe we need to stand up for that line today.''

Interesting. But where is the line, Senator Kerry? The Church is not completely devoid of a role; that much should be obvious. If, for example, a ruling body of a government consisting of Catholics in some nation votes to put to death all people from group X, does not the Church have a sacred duty to call them on it? They're not going to send in the Swiss Guards, but the least they can do is tell them to stop or they'll cut them off from the Sacraments, right? Let's take a more topical argument: abortion. Coming at it from the belief of the Church (that abortion is equal in action and morality to State-defined murder), I think it makes sense for the Church to do what it can to convince legislators to vote pro-life. I don't think that this crosses any line that our forefathers meant to lay down.

It gets a little murkier, though, when the conversation turns to homosexual marriage. How the State defines it, this is a secular contract, not religious. In the United States, how much or how little a couple decides to invoke a Higher Being is completely up to them. I had two very close friends get married this past weekend -- married by another friend of theirs who received his power to marry off the Internet. In America, this is as valid a marriage as my other friends who had a very traditional Catholic wedding. To the State, it's all the same thing, and equal protection given.

This, I believe, does fall under the "separation of church and state" much more naturally. While murder and genocide are shared moralities, and things that are reflected in any culture and society you can name, marriage is a more fluid, changing thing. The logistics of marriage -- usually involving possessions, a sum of work accomplished, and children -- necessitate the State's authority. I would argue, from the other perspective, that a people's souls are not more likely to be risked by secular acknowledgement of homosexual marriage; if they're Catholic, they'll be advised spiritually on the matter. I don't see previously-straight people rushing out into the streets crying their gayness because the Massachutsets Supreme Court decided that gays can marry. Abortion is a different matter -- the State sanctioning it has undoubtedly allowed many to progess that would otherwise have been prevented, thereby risking further souls.

Interesting topic. I would love to hear other perspectives on this issue.

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