Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Criminalizing Marriage

Apparently the state of Indiana isn’t content to just ban marriage equality.  They’ve already done that and are working on a constitutional amendment to that effect.  Now they’re planning to make it a crime to perform a same-sex marriage.

An update to the state’s criminal code classifies that it’s a Level 6 felony if someone submits false information or lies on a marriage license application. This is actually a downgrade from a Class D felony that was established by a 1997 law, but the adjustment has made news as a reminder that the law exists in the first place. Because the marriage form specifies one “male applicant” and “female applicant,” a same-sex couple could not actually use the form as its written. If a couple were thus to attempt submitting an application in protest of the state ban, they could face a maximum of 18 months in prison and a potential fine of up to $10,000.

The law actually has some particularly troubling language for clergy as well. Even if state law doesn’t legally recognize same-sex marriages, religious organizations have always been free to at least recognize them within their faith. That may not be so true in Indiana, where the new criminal code says that anyone “who knowingly solemnizes” a same-sex marriage is guilty of a Class B misdemeanor, punishable by up to 180 days in jail and a fine of up to $1,000. It remains unclear if a solemnization has legally occurred in the absence of an issued license. Thus, if an Episcopal church, for example, decided to celebrate the union of two of its gay congregants, the priest might be in violation of the law.

Regardless of whether or not you believe in marriage equality, it seems like Indiana is skating way too close to violating the First Amendment in dictating to a religious organizations what they can or can’t do in their sanctuary.  Whether or not they recognize same-sex marriages is up to them (see below), but I’m hard-pressed to think of a reason the state has a legitimate reason to bust a church for performing a wedding.

It’s also pretty clear that the proponents of this enhancement to the law didn’t do a lot of research about certain practices in some denominations.  For example, the Quakers.  In the Quaker tradition of unprogrammed worship, a wedding between Friends is not performed by a clergy-person, but under the care of the entire meeting.  All the people present at the wedding (called “A meeting for worship with a concern for marriage”) sign the marriage certificate.  That means that in Indiana, the authorities would have to arrest the entire meeting.  (When such a law was proposed in New Mexico by a legislator of the far-right persuasion, the Albuquerque Friends Meeting sent a letter that basically said “Come and get us.”  The law went nowhere.)

It’s one thing to be against marriage equality and ban it via legislation or referendum.  But to criminalize it indicates a level of animus and hatred that violates more than just the First Amendment.  It’s a violation of the basic respect for freedom that our laws are supposed to ensure.

One bark on “Criminalizing Marriage

  1. What’s next? Imprisoning a gay couple for even thinking about getting married? Totalitarianism, thy name is Republican.

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