Much has been made recently about President Barack Obama’s decision to support gay marriage in the United States.  He’s being attacked from the right and left on this issue when in truth, he had no choice.

Let’s not forget that when a president is sworn in, he takes an oath of office in which he commits to uphold the Constitution.  One provision of that is the Equal Protection clause and he’d be derelict in his duty if he did not announce his support of this issue for the denial of marriage rights clearly violates that clause.

The conservative religious right has come out swinging against him, even within his own faith. The claim is that his support of this issue is somehow going to adversely affect the religious rites of marriage. The liberal left is screaming that he’s not promoting a new equal rights amendment and overturning the Defense of Marriage Act.

There is confusion apparently between the right to marry and the rites of marriage and millions of Americans have heard this confused message recently from their preachers, ministers, vicars and priests.  So let’s set this record straight.

The rite of marriage in a religious context is a ceremony performed in accordance with religious traditions reputed to go back 5,000 years. The right to marry is a civil matter and the license to wed is granted by the state, not the church.

In none of the states where gay marriage is legalized, nor in any other country where it’s legal, has any minister or priest, any church or synagogue been compelled by law to perform any rite of marriage they feel violates their religious freedoms and ecclesiastic traditions.  The only ones compelled by law to perform marriages between same-sex couples are judges and civil authorities, such as mayors and city clerks.

The civil ceremony isn’t really a ceremony as much as it is a legal contract between two parties acknowledged solely by government authority with no religious implications whatsoever. Churches and religious institutions remain protected from the government imposing laws upon religious institutional practices as guaranteed in the Constitution.

None of the same-sex marriage laws anywhere in the world compel religious institutions to accept or recognize the legal standing of gay couples.  So in truth, the right to marry has nothing to do with the rites of marriage in any manner whatsoever.

While Newsweek incorrectly referred to President Obama as “The First Gay President” on its cover of May 14th, 2012, the simple truth is that the title goes more appropriately to James Buchanan, predecessor of Abraham Lincoln, who’s romance with an Alabama US senator was widely known and accepted.  Even in the 1840s before Buchanan was in office, the two were known as “Buchanan and his wife”.   Referring to Obama in this context is simply the magazine pandering for increased sales to the religious conservatives audience it’s trying to capture from Fox News.

The baseless fear of same-sex marriage affecting the religious rites of marriage is preposterous, ridiculous and infantile.  Moreover, the hatred espoused by many ministers from the pulpit against one group of people in this nation, some even calling for the death of all people of the LGBT community, is inherently anti-Christian.   It violates, in every possible sense, the teachings of the man in whom these ministers and their flocks put their faith.

Evidently, the Christian religious institutions of this Nation have made little progress since the days of witch burnings, race-based lynching and segregation.  Worse, they’ve opted to embrace hatred in lieu of Christian teachings and biblical history.  When hatred is promulgated from the pulpit, we’ve seen in past times citizens react violently, foolishly and criminally.  This should never happen in a modern, civilized society.

Religious leaders should not be crafting or influencing legislation any more than legislators should be enacting religious practice. Is it constitutionally equitable for religious institutions to enjoy rights and privileges under law while they seek to deny the constitutional rights of equal protection from American citizens of one class or another?  Are these arguments not the exact same ones made in the 17th through 19th centuries to enslave one group to serve another?

The American public isn’t quite as stupid as many of the religious right believe. Through all the debate and rhetoric, polls show increasing, not diminishing, support for the laws to be changed enabling same-sex marriage around the Nation and recognition of gay marriages across state lines.  Though some states like North Carolina have allowed themselves to be influenced by the religious arguments in this case, others may not be so easily convinced.

Iowa, for example, has had gay marriage now for several years and hasn’t reported any reported cases of heterosexual divorces as a result of gay marriages.  In other words, if there’s a gay married couple down the street, it isn’t causing anyone’s hetero marriage to break up or be adversely affected.

[pullquote]The evolving nature of the living Constitution has shown that a right denied to any citizen is most assuredly one that will change in the fullness of time.[/pullquote]The compelling argument in some moderate circles is that civil union should be enough.  In truth, it’s again a matter of equal protection.  Can any group of citizens be classified today for limited rights under law or be denied the same rights as another class based on sexual orientation, gender, color, religion or any other criteria?  If so, where does it end? Could any group of people be denied rights based on arbitrary criteria set by the majority?

The evolving nature of the living Constitution has shown that a right denied to any citizen is most assuredly one that will change in the fullness of time. That time has come for this issue.

President Obama did not rise to seek national legislation enabling same-sex marriage and prefaced his decision by clearly stating this should be a decision of the various states.  Nonetheless, he did set the benchmark and opened the discussion.  The resulting hatred from a small group of religious leaders may have been astounding to some, but the outcome – support from millions of moderate voters is even more so, showing clearly the population is in favor of it.

Religious institutions will not suffer as a result of this change, and the sanctity of religious rites of marriage will not be altered.  The question will simply boil down to whether any state may deny the equal rights of any group of citizens afforded to the masses in a civil process and a contractual bond under law.  Whether this comes up before the US Supreme Court or not, the evidence is mounting that the Constitution, not the Bible, shall be the deciding document.

From an economic perspective, the LGBT community has been traditionally one of the wealthiest and most financially influential.  They have literally changed for the better, the economic outlook of entire communities around the United States and are singularly responsible for positive gentrification of many poor neighborhoods, lifting the economic condition of millions of poor Americans by remodeling run-down homes, opening shops and restaurants and providing services to the communities in which they reside.

Billions of dollars would be spent by this community on weddings; home values would increase as they purchase property to settle down in; tens of thousands of construction jobs would be created; entire industries uplifted, such as travel, tourism, restaurants, furniture, etc.  This begs a big question ignored by Americans who object on religious grounds – will voting to deny these rights to gays and lesbians be economically helpful or harmful?  Time will tell.