My Turn: Religion has no place in debate about civil rights

Posted: Wednesday, December 31, 2003

In a recent editorial, a minister supported his views condemning marriage rights for gays by citing selected biblical passages. The column contained what can only be described as a virulent bigotry, and I was offended by this and by the premise of the editorial. I do not believe that the quoting of religious passages has any place in the public debate concerning the entitlement of the marriage contract in this nation.

No religious entity has any inherent right - let alone the political or moral authority - to dictate who may or may not be worthy of our nation's civil liberties, and marriage is the most fundamental of those liberties. For that matter, no religious entity has any inherent right to dictate the manner in which individuals regard their souls.

The right of one human being to love and wed another precedes and supersedes the tragic history of religiously sanctioned persecutions, particularly as projected onto national and state policies. The question of whether one perceives the presence of a deity, or in what manner such perception exists, would be - in a mature, just and civilized society - so individual a matter that extending theological perspectives to national policy would be unthinkable.

My uncle, Lou Ashe, a former dean of the International Academy of Trial Lawyers, once wrote "We shall impoverish the spirit of America, if we forget for a moment, the ugly scars left upon the corpus of contemporary world history through the slow erosion of individual rights ... Surely, we have learned that there is no such thing as a partial loss of human rights, or, if you will, a percentage loss; that any surrender of human rights turns out to be a qualitative change in a national character."

As an American, I am ashamed that our country has been so slow to achieve legal parity for all its citizens. At the same time, I am grateful that we continue to work towards it in spite of obstacles. I hope that our elected representatives are cognizant that constituents such as myself deplore any legislation that stigmatizes fellow citizens and attempts to curtail their civil rights.

• Morissa Lou Williams is a Juneau resident and graduate of Wellesley College with a major in religion and biblical studies. She studied briefly at the Jewish Theological Seminary of New York and has published work in a variety of religious journals.

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