“The conversation on [the legal right for marriage equality] has NOTHING to do with my Christian beliefs.”
Since the 2-minute time limit forced me to be a bit more succinct in my remarks earlier today at the Information Session hosted by the Honorable Minister Patricia Gordon Pamplin, I will post here a more full and complete version of my remarks which I shared today:
Firstly, I have been a Christian for 15 years. I, like every other lover of Christ, remember the day that I made a choice to follow His teachings and to embed His principles in my life. That was my choice. My father, who was with me at the time, didn’t make that choice for me. My pastor, who I had learned much from on issues of morality and ethics and who I am happy to see in this forum today, did not make that choice for me. I made a choice. My heart made a choice. My mind made a choice. It was right for me, and any Christian knows what I mean when I say that. Something in my heart knew it was right for me. On the day of judgment, I will have to stand accountable for every choice I make; both the good ones and the bad ones. What value do my good choices have if it was illegal for me to make any other choice? If adultery were illegal, I would have been simply adhering to the laws of man if I remained faithful to my wife. If disrespecting my parents was punishable by death and so I did so out of fear for life and limb, then again I adhere to that code not as a question of moral character but rather as a means of self-preservation. If there is no alternative, then the choice is rendered somewhat less meaningful.
Every decision that a Christian makes in the name of righteousness, they make not because it is the law of the land. If the laws of the land forbade Christian practices, a good Christian would still continue to practice their faith, even with fear of imprisonment or death. If the world’s laws made being Christian illegal, we should keep our faith to do what we think is right because it is Christ’s teachings that we follow, not man’s. The apostles in the early days of Christianity lived in such a world, as did most believers for the first many years where Christians were in a minority. Paul’s letters to the early church were mostly to encourage them to keep their faith in spite of their persecution and to continue to practice the teachings of Christ, even at great personal risk.
I say this to make an important distinction. The conversation on whether or not men should have the legal right to marry men or whether women should have the legal right to marry women has NOTHING to do with my Christian beliefs.
In Matthew 22:18-21, when the pharisees tried to catch Jesus in a trick over the authority of God and the authority of man, they asked him about the legality of believers paying taxes. Jesus responded (while
holding the coin): “Whose likeness is this?” to which they further responded “Caesar”. His answer to their initial question was therefore:
“Render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s”. Jesus often spoke in parables, using analogies to refer to much wider topics of conversation. Here, the Son makes clear that the rights and obligations dictated by the Government (Caesar) are separate from the rights and obligations dictated by God. Jesus Himself lays the early foundation for the separation of the Government and the Church. What the Government says is legal has nothing to do with what God says is right or wrong and citizens must do their civic responsibilities to the Government, no matter what their religious belief. Of all the sins the old testament lists (many of which Jesus is not recorded in the bible lecturing on), this is one of the few that remains illegal by the laws of man. Divorce, a disrespect to the institution of marriage, has been made legal many years ago. Adultery, a disrespect to the institution of marriage, is legal (even if it’s frowned upon or viewed negatively, you can’t go to jail for it).
This remains the only old testament rule with regards to marriage that Bermuda is in adherence with in terms of the bible’s laws and our country’s laws. Why are the bible’s rules about marriage separate from our laws for 2 out of the 3? Ironically, it is the 2 marriage laws that Jesus Himself reinforced (His position on Divorce and Adultery are clear in the book of Matthew) that we have chosen to ignore and the one where Jesus’ views are not clear in the scriptures is the one that many are so fervent and steadfast about. Does the church advocate that we reinstate the other 2 laws and make those activities illegal? That’s a serious question, but one for another time, perhaps.
If there is ever to be a true separation of the Church and the State, then this dialogue becomes that much clearer. On what grounds should the state grant certain rights to some and not others?On public opinion? On votes by the majority? On the religious views of some but not all? If that were the case; if the rights and privileges afforded equally to all citizens were decided by the votes of those with the right to vote, then every person of color, every woman and the non-land-owning white men present in today’s forum would have no right to say anything about the matter at hand because we would not have the right to vote and we’d be at the mercy of the officials that the small minority elected. The rights that we now take for granted were fought for by our predecessors (and some of the people in this room today in fact), some of whom had to die for those rights. Now, we stand here and debate in public forum whether or not we should be merciful enough to allow a minority that lives in our midst to enjoy the same rights that we enjoy. It’s pathetic, really. What gives us the right to decide the rights of our fellow humans? 100 years ago, 90% of tonight’s audience would have had no right to own land or to vote in their own country, yet we sit here and debate whether or not we will allow others to marry, a decision which wouldn’t impact personally anybody in the majority who do not want to see this happen.
What would we do if we lived in a “Good Muslim Society” that decided that marriage was an institution of Islam, and that no other religious service could be used to bless a marriage?
What if the majority of people in parliament changed the legislation such that men could only marry men and women could only marry women?
What would we do if the shoe was on the other foot and we were the minority? Many present in the room today have been minorities, either in representation or in influence. Would we not fight to have the same rights as those who already have them? Would we be content when those who had the rights we desire told us that they “didn’t agree with our life choices” and on that basis they denied us the right to do as we wish? Would we leave our homeland so that we could live and love as our hearts told us was right?
Today, I stand as a member of the majority to say that it is not within my authority, nor is it in the authority of any other person either singularly or as a majority voice, to stop 2 people who have made the choice from being joined in marriage. If it would be wrong for them to use their religious beliefs to stop me from marrying who I love, then it would be wrong for me or anyone else to do that to them. Freedom of religion is a 2-way street. It doesn’t mean “Freedom to be Christian”. It means freedom to have and live by whatever religion you hold in your own heart (provided of course that it doesn’t infringe on someone else’s). It is the responsibility of the Government to legislate that equality and freedom for its people. Whilst I appreciate, respect and laud the Honorable Minister for planning and hosting today’s session in the spirit of true democracy, every day the Government sits by and does nothing is another day that the Government of Bermuda fails in its duty to its law-abiding, tax-paying citizens. This isn’t about an individual’s conscience, no matter where the conscience guides them. It is not about the Church’s right to refuse to perform marriage ceremonies if they fall outside their religious doctrine (which they should maintain). This is about the law being discriminatory against a group of citizens whose desire it is to be treated and afforded with the same dignity that everyone else has. We are overdue for action.
Justin D Brangman
We received this heartfelt letter of support from Justin D Brangman, a Bermudian who attended the Ministry of Community, Culture & Sports’ Information Session on Same Sex Marriage on Monday September 28. Thank you Justin.