Prop 8 unconstitutional: The sanctity of marriage equality

Justin Sullivan GETTY IMAGES A same-sex couple holds hands during a press conference at San Francisco City Hall on February … Continued

Justin Sullivan


A same-sex couple holds hands during a press conference at San Francisco City Hall on February 7, 2012 in San Francisco, California. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that the voter-approved Proposition 8 measure violates the civil rights of gay men and lesbians.

California’s Proposition 8, the 2008 referendum that amended that state’s Constitution to limit marriage to a man and a woman, has been overturned by a federal appeals panel in San Francisco. This is clearly a win for equal human rights in that state, and for the “human dignity of gays and lesbians in California,” as U.S. Circuit Court Judge Stephen Reinhardt wrote.

Overturning Prop 8 is also a win for the sanctity of marriage equality. “Sanctity of marriage,” of course, is the language that religious and political conservatives often use against the idea that gay men, lesbians, bisexuals or transgender Americans should have marriage equality. For example, the “Alabama Sanctity of Marriage Amendment” of 2006, also known as “Amendment 774, is an amendment to the Alabama Constitution that makes it unconstitutional for the state to recognize or perform same-sex marriages or civil unions. The language of the constitutional amendment actually uses the word “sacred” as it states that marriage is “a sacred covenant.” To me, this seems extraordinary language for a state constitution as it connects a state’s civil action in marriage and the sacred, that is, having to do with the divine. Such language, in my view, has no place in an American state constitution.

But I am wholly and completely persuaded that standing up for equality in marriage for LGBT people is a holy act, an act that is worthy of reverence. Sanctity in general means being in a state of being holy, and if there were ever an institution where holiness should apply, it is the right to be married to the person you love. To deny people the right to marry the person they love is a cruel act, a profane act, an act that is dead to the call of soul to soul, heart to heart and body to body that so characterizes marriage at its best.

View Photo Gallery: Ninth Circuit decision could lead to the Supreme Court’s consideration of the controversial social issue.

Fewer and fewer young people are getting married, and I believe that the denial of full marriage equality to all Americans is a factor in this. How can the “millennial generation,” a generation that is so strikingly supportive of marriage equality, believe that marriage is somehow special when their LGBT friends are denied this legal, and often where they might wish, religious union? I know young heterosexual couples who tell me they have chosen not to marry until their gay, lesbian, bisexual or transgender friends can get married too. I think theirs is a principled position, but it also relegates legal marriage to the “optional” category, instead of a way we make a strong commitment to one another in relationship. Thus, when some are denied the right to legally marry for no reason other than their sexual orientation, it tarnishes the whole institution of marriage.

I therefore believe overturning Prop 8 is a win for the holiness of marriage. Marriage at its best is a sacred calling to relationship. Sanctity in marriage is not handed to you as a prize because you happen to be heterosexual and can be legally married. Instead, marriage is an equal civil right as well as something that two people achieve over their lives as they live into a commitment to each other’s well-being.

The “sanctity of marriage equality” is a practical holiness, a lived holiness. I am moved to tears when I see LGBT couples celebrating this wonderful decision to overturn Proposition 8 in California. These couples have struggled so long, and fought so hard to be married. If the struggle for equality for all people, including the right to be married, is not a primary way we define ‘related to the divine,’ then I don’t know what is.


Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite is Professor of Theology and immediate past President of Chicago Theological Seminary. She is also a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress. Her most recent books are "#OccupytheBible: What Jesus Really Said (and Did) About Money and Power" and, as contributor and editor, "Interfaith Just Peacemaking: Jewish, Christian, and Muslim Perspectives on the New Paradigm of Peace and War."
  • Freemason2012

    I personally am for gay rights. I am a happily married straight man. And I believe they should be able to marry. Now I think that marriage has strayed from what it was meant to be over the years. Nobody needs a piece of legal paper to declare his or her love in front of god. That is one thing that the government can’t take away from you. I personally didn’t care that a legal document made me feel closer to my spouse. It was the vows we exchanged from our ceremony that really connected us spiritually. Originally marriages where meant to be a ceremonious gathering where two people declared their love for one another. When legal documents came into play I believe the true meaning of marriage just a strayed. I even believe that love as a poly committed marriage is also very beautiful as well. They have a three way mutual love they declare to god for better or worse. But my overall point is no government could ever tell you your love isn’t valid and true or even morally right.

  • Bossanova

    I myself am not gay, and my conservatve friends will be disappointed, but I have always thought that people should be happy – regardless of their sexual orientation. I originally voted for gay marriage in California, and I still stand behind it. Relax everyone, let people be happy.

  • catherine888

    i thought about what you wrote and did a little research. As my foundation – our country was presumably united under God – where the majority of American’s are Christian and signed up in unity and we became the United STates. In God we Trust is on our currency and is our nations motto. So, we are a Christian nation or are governed under christian principles. God does not allow same sex marriage – or so the bible says and well, this can be somewhat construed to be one of our acceptable american handbooks on the subject..more so at the moment than let’s say the Koran. Going against what God wants is considered a sin and then there is punishment, repentance, forgiveness and so and so on more governed by your christian denomination.

    Gay marriage seems not to fit well here. So the government can consider taking the church out of marriage and the word holy away from matrimony and maybe a few more alterations, and you have a new unity arrangement of marriage based upon the principles of the old. In God we Trust comes off the dollar and the Motto of America is changed to better define our new found freedom away from under God.

    As you put so succinctly that marriage is a civil right-however I think it is more a choice. You say that overturning prop 8 is a win for the holiness of marriage, but I can’t see where a union of marriage between same sex is “sanctioned” in the good book to deem it holy.

    So, I am confused. But marriage is no prize to be handed out as you say if you are heterosexual. Marriage is not a contest so no winner no prize. But this may change if the ban is removed making marriage a prize for homosexuals. I am no sure this was the intent.

    So if we are redefining marriage and blurring the edges and tying in perceived rights and entitlements based upon our needs to be allowed to join or be accepted in a religious union, aren’t we just rewriting scripture that was written to govern these types of things?

    I think that we should first redefine our

  • larryclyons

    Except that this country, despite the best efforts of people like you, is not a theocracy. We are not a Christian nation by the Constitution and by treaty. Moreover all that this is about is making sure that rights granted by a state, are not arbitrarily and capriciously removed by the whim of an extremely thin majority. If Prop 8 stands, this, for instance, could set a precident that would allow taking away the vote from any minority by a carefully manipulated referendum. While I can as some extremists on the reich wing wanting such, I don’t think that most Americans would agree.

  • GalacticCannibal

    What is all this bloody fuss about. If a pair of the same gender want to get married NO BIG DEAL. Me I have zero interest in marrying my gender. But if my neighbor decided to marry the same gender , it would not bother me, that is their business.. So why all this bloody fuss. The Fed and State Gov’s should stay out of personnel matters like marriage, it is none of their business. Isn’t the U.S. supposed to be the “Land of the Free and Home of the Brave”. Seems to me more like the “Land of the Controlled and Home of the Hypocrites”. Whats all the fuss about people ???

  • stephes7

    If we follow your logic, why does “your” definition of marriage state “two” people? If marriage is for everyone, that means any number of people should be able to enter into “marriage, doesn’t it?

  • eye0re_64

    America was founded upon the principle of religious freedom. It was not founded with the intent that everyone who leaves the country of their birth to come here, does it with the understanding that they will be expected, once they have citizenship, to become a christian. While the forefathers who wrote the declaration of independence were not a religiously diverse group, over the years since it was signed and amendments were added, we, as a nation have come to understand that using the words “In God We Trust” does not require all citizens to have a religion that they practice much less one that worships “God.”

    As it is not a constitutional law nor a requirement for citizenship, that we practice Christianity, thus we, as US citizens are not bound by the “laws” found in the bible. This being said, we, as citizens of a country that VALUES freedom of religion and the separation between church and state are free to define, through our constitutional amendments, what is by definition a “marriage.” If we choose to refer to it as “holy” matrimony, then WE as citizens of this country are free to do so according to the first amendment.

  • blinwilly

    christians say that gays can’t marry at all but christians can marry all they want. the same bible that says gays can’t be together also says that you can’t take up with anyone else until your spouse is dead or it’s adultery, it also says you can’t eat pork and that women shouldn’t wear men’s clothes, all conviently forgotten by christians. so is it more of an abomination to be gay or a serial adulterer that eats pork.

  • jsmith4

    Yes, BUT…
    if society is going to give Social Sanction to marriage between two heterosexuals, it must, under the equal rights principle, do so for two gay people. You or I may not “need” the sanction, but it is unfair (and unholy) for society to deny us that choice.

  • jsmith4

    How idiotic must one be to think that there is a constitutional requirement for a US citizen to be a Christian, or to believe in God at all for that matter???

  • jsmith4

    If we pass laws that 3-2000 people may enter into marriage, as we Mormons used to practice, it would THEN be unconstitutional to deny gay people that right if it were granted to “heterosexual” people (whatever that would mean in the new context).

  • jsmith4

    btw, I have a petition in to be able to marry my Penguin. But there would be no touching allowed.

  • Sara121

    Go reread the First Amendment Catherine. No laws based on religion. Any religion. No exceptions, no exemptions. All that in god we trust stuff came well after the Constitution and the Bill of Rights were written.

    Prop 8 and DOMA are gross violations of the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment and, when rationalized by religious reasons, a violation of the First Amendment.

  • Sara121

    And that is exactly why it is a 14th Amendment issue. If the government formally recognizes and gives benefits to a heterosexual couple, they must legally do so for a homosexual couple.

  • catherine888

    Thank you for helping me to understand this better.

  • WmarkW

    Since it wouldn’t be a Constitutional violation for the California legislature to not pass gay marriage in the first place, I don’t see how it can be unconstitutional for the state’s voters to rescind it.

  • Sara121

    “Homosexuality is a behavioral choice”

    If that’s the case, then your heterosexuality is a choice too. Either way you are still talking about sexuality. And there is no credible scientific evidence that it is a mental disorder. Forbidding incest has nothing to do with forbidding two consenting adults of the same gender from calling their union a marriage and getting all of the same benefits as two consenting heterosexual couples. To disallow gay marriage at all is a violation of the 14th Amendment. If the government is going to be in the business of formally recognizing and conferring benefits on two consenting adults of opposite gender who enter into a specific legal contract called marriage, then under the equal protection clause, they must also formally recognize and confer the same benefits to two consenting adults of the same gender.

  • Sara121

    Sexuality is sexuality. If homosexuality is a choice then so is your heterosexuality.

  • Sara121

    If the state is going to be in the business of conferring legal status and economic benefits on two consenting adults of opposite gender who enter into a contract we call marriage, then under the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment, it would be unconstitutional to disallow the same legal status and benefits for two consenting adults of the same gender.

  • Sara121

    14th Amendment: “… No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws…”

    The only requirement is citizenship, which is defined as those who are born here or are naturalized. Gays and lesbians are citizens whether you like it or not; therefore the equal protection clause applies to them, regardless of whether sexuality is genetic or a “choice.” Sexuality is still sexuality.

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