Faith, Family, and God: Jeb Bush Gets it Wrong on Marriage

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bible_smBy: Paul P. Jesep*/TRT Columnist —

In a May interview, Jeb Bush, former Florida governor and 2016 Republican presidential candidate, underscored his opposition to marriage equality, insisting that it’s not a constitutional right.

Bush has received the ire of influential GOP activists for including advisers who strongly support marriage equality in his inner circle. Now, it appears Bush, a practicing Catholic, is attempting to bolster his conservative credentials in a primary system that generally prefers candidates on the right of social issues. It’s pragmatic for the primaries, but in the general election, should he become the nominee, Bush will need to figure out how to move toward the ideological center.

I’ll leave it to the political pundits to pontificate (pardon the pun) on a Jeb and Hillary matchup, though I don’t think either are worthy to be president (Go Bernie!). The more important issue is that Bush, like other opponents of marriage equality, must be challenged on his reactionary comments regarding the so-called threats to religious liberty. [pullquote]What Bush and others must understand is that marriage remains a religious word defined differently within faith traditions; some support same-gender unions, others don’t. [/pullquote]

According to Bush, traditional marriage is a sacrament and “at the core of the Catholic faith.” Does the Catholic faith have greater rights in American society than the Unitarian, Presbyterian, Episcopalian, Evangelical Lutherans, United Church of Christ, Reform Jewish Movement, and Conservative Jewish Movement traditions, among others, who support marriage equality? Incidentally, no Catholic priest or other clergy opposed to marriage equality has ever been required to perform a same-gender marriage. It would be a violation of the constitutional principle of religious freedom. Why is it permissible to apply the faith of persons opposed to marriage equality to religious leaders, like myself, who believe as a matter of faith that it is holy to solemnize same-gender unions?

Supporters of marriage equality understand “marriage” in a secular context. Opponents define it as something sacred within the context of their relationship with personal faith. If everyone, gay or straight, received a “civil union” this would be a far less divisive, contentious issue. Once a civil union has been performed by a government official, it would be up to a couple to find a priest, rabbi, pastor, or mullah to perform a religious sacrament.

What stops me, a seminary-trained, ordained priest, from celebrating a religious marriage in Kentucky, which currently outlaws same-gender marriage under civil law? Nothing. As a priest, it is my constitutional right as a matter of religious freedom to perform a marriage, though I could not, nor would I, sign a government document attesting to a secular marriage under the Commonwealth’s laws. In the eyes of God, it would be, in my opinion, a sacrament.  [pullquote]Why is it permissible to apply the faith of persons opposed to marriage equality to religious leaders, like myself, who believe as a matter of faith that it is holy to solemnize same-gender unions? [/pullquote]

I can issue signed, religious certificates with my seal solemnizing a same-gender union. It has always annoyed me that I’m sometimes called on to be an agent of the state to marry a couple under civil law and also serve as a clergyman to solemnize a sacred union before the Giver of Life.

What Bush and others must understand is that marriage remains a religious word defined differently within faith traditions; some support same-gender unions, others don’t. Many in secular society think of marriage not as a sacrament, but as the recognition of a commitment grounded in love under civil, not sacred, law.

Government’s role is never to protect a religious tradition. Let religion and people of faith define and protect tradition and sacraments. Government’s role is to ensure fairness and equality for all citizens.

*Paul is an attorney, seminary trained priest, and corporate chaplain (www.CorporateChaplaincy.biz). He will offer a morning workshop on LGBTQ spirituality in Albany, NY at Capital Counseling (www.capitalcounseling.org) June 16. Call Jennifer at (518) 465-3813, Ext. 117, for more information.