Tradition

“Religious Liberty”

For some reason, I don’t know why, I am on the e-mail list for the National Organization for Marriage, the organization that opposes same-sex marriage. I know I did not sign up, and I can only assume someone else signed me up to influence my opinion?

In any case, today I decided to click through and take a look at a petition they are circulating asking their members to contact Jeff Sessions and encourage him “to protect the religious liberty rights of individuals and groups who hold traditional viewpoints on marriage, life, gender and similar issues.”

Now, the phrase “religious liberty rights” on its face would seem to mean the right of people to practice their religion without the government taking sides. So you can worship God as a literal judge who sits in the heavens, while I am free to “affirm and promote the interconnected web of life of which we are all a part.” You can practice religion by wearing a specific costume and doing a particular dance, and I can practice by reciting tales of my ancestors or praying five times a day.

But what this petition is requesting is not liberty in this sense, rather it is asking for the government to take sides and protect a specific set of religious beliefs and practices– they don’t want to protect everyone’s liberty, just the liberty “of individuals and groups who hold traditional viewpoints…” (If you would like to read my views on this notion of “tradition,” incidentally, do a search on that word, and you’ll find a number of old posts.)

This wording aside, an argument could be made that those who created the petition are not asking for their religion to be given preference over others. Fundamentalist Christians who take the Bible literally are a minority religion, after all, in spite of their loud voices. Christians in general make up almost 80% of our population, but most are not Fundamentalists. As I have mentioned here before, a poll done by a Christian organization showed that only 30% of self-identified Christians approach the Bible as the literal and inerrant word of God. So the case can be made that a religious minority is asking to be excused from certain aspects of civil society, as a pacifist Quaker might ask to be excused from participating in war. They will not impose their faith on others if we agree not to impose our values on them.

This point of view, however, is undercut by some of the comments posted on the petition’s page. The very first commenter expresses his or her concern that “My fear is that an Executive Order would also likely have to provide ‘religious protections’ to other religious groups…” This person was especially worried about the “Big Love” scenario, in which fundamentalist Mormons and Muslims would push for plural marriage.  (Plural marriage is, as it happens, quite well represented in the Bible.)

The result of the nightmare scenario of giving other religious groups the same freedom to opt out of mainstream law and practice is clear to the poster.  Plural marriage would be accepted and “the Muslims will be breeding like rats on the public dole until they gain enough numbers to subvert the US into an Islamic Republic under Shariah!” (They’re going to have to get busy, as Muslims currently make up .8 percent of the U.S. population.)

This should make it clear enough that the petition is not really about “liberty.” A second poster agreed that what we really need to do is to “start asserting our right to keep all people who do not want to assimilate to our way of life out of this country.”

Using the language of individualism and choice, these posters are asking to have their traditions, and only their traditions, enforced. They don’t want to just be left alone to practice their minority religion in peace, they want those of us who are not practitioners to assimilate or get out. They are asking for the right to define the “real America” as people like them.

 

 

 

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Why Do Some Defenders of Tradition Find Family Life so Unappealing?

A couple of stories have crossed my radar lately that have led me to ask this question.

University of Maryland sociologist Philip N. Cohen dissected the argument of the amicus brief filed by Hawkins and Carroll in Utah’s attempt to ban same sex marriage in that state. The brief makes the following assertion:

Traditional, gendered marriage is the most important way heterosexual men create their masculine identities. Marriage forms and channels that masculinity into the service of their children and society. Redefining marriage to include same-sex couples would eliminate gender as a crucial element of marriage and thus undermine marriage’s power to shape and guide masculinity for those beneficial ends….

Many of the historical supports that have traditionally preserved men’s involvement in their children’s lives have been eroding for contemporary families. Historically high rates of non-marital cohabitation, out-of-wedlock childbirth, and marital divorce have dramatically altered the landscape of fathering, leaving unprecedented numbers of children growing up with uncertain or nonexistent relationships with their fathers. …any signal that men’s contributions are not central to children’s well-being threatens to further decrease the likelihood that they will channel their masculine identities into responsible fathering. We believe the official de-gendering of marriage sends just such a signal.

Cohen sums this up this way: “Yes, the very existence of gay marriage will encourage the evolutionary tendency of (straight) men to neglect their children.”  (The full article is called “Does Gay Marriage Make Straight Men Hate Children?“)

The underlying assumption in this convoluted argument seems to be that left to their own devices, men would naturally not want to be fathers. As women are not brought up in this quote, a parallel assumption seems to be that women need no external coaching in femininity in order to assume full responsibility for their offspring. Women relish parenting, and would never have an impulse to escape the pressures of parenthood.  Right, ladies?

But wait, not so fast. Here comes conservative activist Phyllis Schalafly. Writing in the Christian Post, Schalafly makes the case that eliminating the income gap between men and women would lead to a breakdown of society:

Another fact is the influence of hypergamy, which means that women typically choose a mate (husband or boyfriend) who earns more than she does. Men don’t have the same preference for a higher-earning mate.

While women prefer to HAVE a higher-earning partner, men generally prefer to BE the higher-earning partner in a relationship. This simple but profound difference between the sexes has powerful consequences for the so-called pay gap.

Suppose the pay gap between men and women were magically eliminated. If that happened, simple arithmetic suggests that half of women would be unable to find what they regard as a suitable mate.

In other words, in Schlafly’s worldview women would have no inclination to marry if they were not financially dependent upon men.

Why do traditionalists like these think that family life is so naturally unappealing that people need to be coerced into it?

Government and the Blessing Business

This evening I decided to watch Meet the Press on my DVR.  It turns out the episode on my list was not from this past Sunday but from Easter.  One of the issues discussed on the program was same sex marriage and one of the guests was Brian Brown of the National Organization for Marriage.

He had a lot to say about “tradition” of course.  His main argument, as I understand it, is that “marriage” is a fundamental term that (ignoring plural marriage as practiced in Biblical times and in many parts of the world today) means a union of a man and a woman.  This is the most essential aspect of what a marriage is.

Just before he was cut off as the program ran out of time he said, “Gays and lesbians are free to live as they choose, but marriage comes before the state.  The state does not create it.”

He would have said more, but I think the essence of his point was made. If I understand it correctly it is that no matter what else you think a marriage constitutes, no matter what kind of property arrangements, whether it is a love match or a way for aristocratic families to insure their regal status, whether it produces children or not, at its most fundamental level it is a male and a female who enter the contract.

“The state does not create it…”

What confuses me about the argument is this– if the government aspects of marriage are not, at its core, what marriage is– then why oppose government recognition of the unions of same sex couples? What the state says is marriage shouldn’t have any bearing on what marriage really is.  Just as gays and lesbians are free to live as they please without a law to support them, those who disapprove are equally free to believe they do not have a “real” marriage if they law supports them.

If it is not the state that creates the marriage, then  is a committed, cohabitating straight couple who do not sign a legal marriage contract married?  If signing the legal contract with the state is the difference between being married and not married then how does the state not create it?  If, in some fundamental way, the couple is married by saying they are a committed couple even if they do not get the state involved then aren’t same sex couples already also married in the only way that matters?  Isn’t that idea of marriage, and not the joint filing of taxes, what actually bothers you? What am I missing?

What is a “real” marriage?  Is it the contract with the state or something else? These days, I think we might be inclined to say that people who did not love each other but married for money and status were not in a “real” marriage. Up to a century ago such a marriage, especially among the upper classes, would be typical and it would be absurd to suggest it was not a “real marriage.”  Property and title transfers were exactly what marriages were about.

Is it about children?   Much of the compelling state interest in marriage is about providing a secure environment for children, yes. But childless couples have what we consider to be “real” marriages, don’t they?  Infertile couples can marry. If a male and a female friend marry but do not have sex, is it a “real” marriage? If not, does that mean sex is the basis of marriage?

In fact, isn’t it this very question that troubles traditionalists?  It is not about gay sex.  It is that if we start to question exactly what marriage is we might find that we can’t redefine it because we’ve never really quite defined it to begin with.  (For a similar train of thought, see my entry Identity Fluid.)

I was reminded of an article I wrote about a year ago under the heading “Traditional Marriage” which I want to quote again here:

It seems that those who hold the “tradition” view believe society bestows an honor on those to whom it grants the status of marriage.  It is a celebration, a recognition and a welcoming of the couple into the larger community.  Some feel that the marriage of same sex couples is not something that society ought to sanction or bless.

What I found most interesting about this guest (see original article for the background) was that he said that there was nothing stopping gay couples from gathering with their families and holding a ceremony to honor their commitment.  He was not opposed to that, only to the government legally recognizing the marriage.  When it comes to the legal status of marriage he said (I’m paraphrasing a bit because this was a couple of weeks ago) “We have to decide if it is a benefit to society to allow that.”

What is odd about this is that government recognition of marriage is the one part that completely ignores the spiritual, romantic and community aspects of the union.  The government doesn’t care if the couple is serious, or committed or in love, or what their parents think, or if they go to church or wear white or plan to raise a family. The government cares if you filled out the right forms and paid the correct fee.

Just as the government is not honoring the proud parents when it issues a “certificate of live birth,” the government is not bestowing a blessing with a marriage license.  Governments are not in the blessing business.

The reason the government provides a legal status of marriage is to make it easier for everyone else.  By granting couples the status of marriage, many legal processes are streamlined.  We do not have to reinvent everything for each couple or each relationship.  We have processes for co-parenting, joint property, divorce, inheritance that, as long as there are not too many complicating factors, simplify things for the rest of us.  We don’t need long explanations of what the intentions of the two parties are because they have defined it using this legal umbrella term of “marriage.”

Not including same sex couples who have similar intentions in our legal category creates a lot of extra headaches, litigation and work for our system.

What is interesting to me about the panelist’s tradition argument is that he believes gay couples should actually be entitled to the blessing, the honor and the welcoming embrace of community. He would open all of the tradition to them, as he has no problem with them having wedding ceremonies and living as committed couples with all of the community acceptance of their status.

Listing a person of the same sex as spouse on an insurance form, however, seems to be the problem.

The fact of the matter is that “marriage” is not one thing. There are legal aspects and social aspects to marriage. Marriage is a property arrangement and can also be a spiritual bond. Even though we call everyone we’ve given this legal status “married” no two marriages are alike.

On the Other Hand: Nonsense Questions We Keep Debating

In the West we were raised with a certain way of approaching disagreements. We internally call up the ancient Greek model of logic. “If A is true then not A is false.” This is a great way of thinking about certain questions. (In the East they are more comfortable with the idea that A and not A can both be true.   For more on this read The Geography of Thought by Richard E. Nisbett.)

This logical formula starts to break down, however, when applied to imprecisely defined abstract notions.

As an example, let’s say I wanted to argue that Americans are good people. I could make a list of all of our good traits and conclude that we are great folks. The knee-jerk counter argument would be that Americans are bad people. You might list all of Americans rather annoying and destructive habits and conclude that Americans are jerks. Of course Americans are both good folks and jerks. In fact, depending on the type of day she has had, a single American might qualify as both a good person and a jerk.

There are a lot of these types of overly broad arguments when it comes to religion.

  1. Is religion (or belief in God) good or bad for the world?

I have written a couple of articles on this subject before, (see Is Religion Good for You? and my review of Upton Sinclair) but the question of whether “religion” is good or bad is overly vague. What do you mean by “religion”? No one practices “religion” they practice particular religions. The way that people argue this question is generally by making a list of either good or bad outcomes of religious observance. Those on the good side focus on those things and write off terrorism, closed mindedness and other negative aspects of religion as being “fanaticism” or “not real religion” or “a perversion of real religion.”

Whereas those who argue that religion is bad will dismiss the positive role that religion plays for many people or the positive things organized religious people can do. Religions are made up of human beings and as such are, like people, both good and bad. It may make sense to argue whether a particular belief or practice is generally positive or negative and in what specific way, but arguing over religion as a whole seems far too vague to be useful. Those who argue in favor of religion do not need to deny that the Crusades and modern terrorism have religious motivations. On the other hand, if religion did not exist human nature would not change. Fanatics would still be produced.  They would just be motivated by some other grand calling. Likewise, the sense of the divine and the deep meaning that practicing worship in community has for people should not be written off by the non-religious. On the other hand, the religious should not assume that those who are not religious have no access to meaningful experience or any framework for ethics. Morality is not only a property of religion.

2. Is human nature essentially sinful or essentially good?

Human beings are essentially human. One of our biggest challenges as human beings is figuring out how to get along with all those other people. It can be hard. Not only are those other people completely unreasonable so much of the time, but we’re not really a picnic either. On the other hand, it is impossible to imagine a life without other people. A life of complete solitude would be meaningless. Other people, in all their complexity, give meaning to our lives. They give us love, they are sometimes compassionate and graceful and can inspire us and support us. We all have our sinful moments. The word “sin” means to fall short. We all fall short of our highest aspirations from time to time. On the other hand, we often live up to them, even surpass them. To focus on the fact that we fall short and to define human nature as falling short is only half of the picture. And while we affirm the inherent worth and dignity of every human being, we have to admit that human beings are not only good and have the capacity for bad as well.

  1. Which is more important tradition or progress?

This is one that I find a great deal in the gay marriage debate. Those who are opposed often argue that the law should not be changed because it goes against tradition. The underlying assumption is that tradition is, by definition, good. As with religion, there is no one thing called “tradition.” Rather, there are many traditions. It was traditional for barbers to treat illness with bloodletting. It was traditional to perform animal sacrifices. It was traditional to consider wives to be property. It was traditional to wear powdered wigs and corsets. These are all traditions we’ve decided we no longer need. The question should not be “is it traditional” but “is it a tradition worth keeping?” I think we can safely put animal sacrifice into the “not worth keeping” category without getting rid of traditions that are worth keeping like devotional art, the mass or Passover Seder. The other side of this is that not every change is progress. The Germans have a word “schlimbesserung.” It means “a so called improvement that actually makes things worse.” Arguing that something is the “modern world view” is not the same as saying it is better than the previous world view.  The question is not is this traditional or is this modern.  It is rather is this a valuable practice or not?  Why or why not?  (See my other articles on tradition here and here.)

The Illusion of Tradition

A follow up, of sorts, to my first article on tradition.

When you start to read books on the history of Christianity it becomes clear that many of the ideas and approaches that seem non-traditional and novel are actually as old or older than the approaches considered “traditional.” I have read many a 19th century text making the same arguments that might be published in books today as shocking new ways of approaching religion.

I was recently reading the book American Jesus by Stephen Prothero, which talks about how our distinctly American ways of understanding Jesus and Christianity have evolved.  One of the things that surprised me was the prominence of Unitarians and their kind in shaping our national religious culture.  In spite of having our patron saints Emerson and Channing, I don’t recall learning much in Sunday school about Unitarian history.  We learned about other religions and their traditions but I do not remember having a sense of Unitarians having traditions and history of our own.  Instead, I had a vague sense of Unitarianism being modern and forward thinking.  Unitarians, I generally believed, reacted against the ills of mainstream religious culture.  We did not create or influence the mainstream.

Prothero points out that the forms of Christianity that came to the United States did not put Jesus at the center of their theology as we do today.  The second person of the trinity was present in the faith of the Puritans and Calvinist of course, but the focus was on the first person, God.   Christ “functioned as more of a principle than a person.”

The shift towards a “personal relationship” with Jesus came from a place you might not expect, what we would now call the religious left, Unitarians, Transcendentalists and Universalists or more accurately, the dance between traditionalist and “the religious left.”

Thomas Jefferson’s approach to scripture was to try to get back to the original teaching of Jesus and away from all of the interpretation that had built up over the years.  The Jefferson Bible removed all of the miracles and supernaturalism and got down to a few core teachings that Jefferson believed were authentic to Jesus.  Even though his theology would not resonate with many modern Christians, his focus on the fundamental teachings of Jesus over institutional traditions became a hallmark of American religion.

Thomas Jefferson’s influence on American religion can be overstated. His theological views, unorthodox upon his death in 1825, remain unorthodox today; the overwhelming majority of Americans are now Christians who affirm the creedal view of their Savior as fully divine and fully human. Nonetheless, they have inherited from Jefferson a strategy for understanding Jesus and Christianity that continues to drive religious change, from both the left and the right. That strategy begins with a bold refusal. It starts when a religious reformer refuses to equate Jesus with the Christian tradition. The religion of Jesus, the reformer asserts, is not the same as the religion about Jesus; and what really matters is what Jesus did and taught. The second step is to isolate certain beliefs or practices in the Christian tradition as unreasonable or antiquated or immoral. The next step is to use the cultural authority of Jesus to denounce those beliefs or practices as contrary to true Christianity—to call for religious reform. As these alternative understandings gain ground, Jesus is gradually unmoored from the beliefs, practices, and institutions that in the past had restricted his freedom of movement. He loses no authority among the traditionalists, who continue to see him as they had, but he gains authority among the innovators. As his authority expands, Christians are all the more likely to champion reforms.

This opened the door for a form of Christianity that encouraged members to think of Jesus as someone with whom they could have a personal relationship and to try to get back to fundamentals of the religion of Jesus.

Prothero also referenced the “Unitarian Controversy of the early nineteenth century… That controversy, which ran from 1804 until the establishment of the American Unitarian Association in 1825, touched on the doctrine of the Trinity, but centered on human nature. While traditionalists affirmed Calvin’s dogma of the total depravity of human beings, Unitarians defended the more optimistic view that human beings were essentially good.”

An interesting historical note is that one of the reasons the UUs merged was that the Universalist church, which had once been very popular and growing, started to lose its appeal as many other mainstream Protestant faiths toned down their talk of hell and started adopting a more universalist approach themselves.  “God is love and he loves everyone” is the chorus of a popular Christian song right now. Rob Bell’s Love Wins expresses a more universalist Christian theology.  So, in a way, the success of universalism also became the universalist church’s down fall.  When Methodist churches started to focus more on heaven and the goodness of people than on damnation and sin a lot of Universalists jumped ranks.

Christianity has never been a monolith.  In fact, the earliest Christian writings we have in the Bible, the letters of Paul, seek to address heated arguments within the early Jesus movement as to what was required to be a follower of Christ.  At the fourth-century Council of Laodicea, early Christians met to close the canon of the Bible.  Some argued that there should be one Gospel.  Others fought for four, one for each corner of the earth.  As you know from glancing at your New Testament, this side won out.  (I touched on this in an earlier essay on the “What is a Christian” question.)

A view that is orthodox in one era is heresy in another.  Some of the heresies are older than some of the orthodoxies.  Some former orthodoxies are modern heresies.

For example, approaching the Bible as the literal, inerrant word of God is actually a fairly new method for interpreting scripture gaining prominence only in the 20th century.  (There are many sources on this.  One that I can think of off hand is Pedagogy of the Bible by Dale B. Martin because I happen to have read it recently.)

If a non-literal approach to the Bible predates that of Biblical literalism, why is it that we consider literalism traditional and a less literal interpretation as new?  I believe it has less to do with history and more to do with a sense of identity.  Liberal religious types value their sense of identity as free thinkers and agents of social change whereas fundamentalist types value their sense of being part of an ongoing tradition with firm foundations.  We accept each group’s self-definition.

The interesting effect is that a viewpoint that is, in fact, a minority opinion becomes the working default assumption of what counts as mainstream thought.  Almost every book that I read on the Bible or Jesus scholarship spends a great deal of time arguing against the proposition that the Bible should be approached as the literal, inerrant word of God (God’s instruction manual, if you will) even though, as I have mentioned here before, a poll done by a Christian organization of Christians showed that only 30% of self-identified Christians approach the Bible in that way. Why is it that almost every discussion of Christianity addresses a minority view as though it is the default assumption?  It is only because it has been dubbed the “traditional approach.”

Rather than using our self-definitions, and seeing the people who value tradition most as the most traditional, what if we were to view a more questioning approach to the Bible as mainstream American thought and to view fundamentalism as a modern counter-cultural faith?  How would our dialogue change?

Tradition!

The opening sequence of the film (and the play) Fiddler on the Roof features Tevye joyously and unforgettably celebrating his culture’s traditions.

On the surface, Fiddler on the Roof is about a Jewish community in early 20th Century Czarist Russia.  More essentially, however, it is about the conflict between tradition and change.  Which traditions are simply outmoded and which are essential to our sense of history and balance as a community?  How do you allow for positive change without losing the value that comes with tradition?

One of the vital roles that religion plays in society is tradition keeper.  In the church and other religious institutions people record and remember the every day lives of their members.  The history that is kept in church is different from that taught in schools.  It is not the history of monarchs, kings, politicians and powerful political and economic interests.  It is the history of our seasons, our harvests, our births and deaths.  This is where our sacred ordinary lives are recorded, if not in name, in rituals that tie generations together.

The other side of this, however, is that in its role as tradition keeper, the religious institution tends to be the segment of society most resistant to social change.

As Mark Twain wrote: “Who discovered that there was no such thing as a witch — the priest, the parson? No, these never discover anything. At Salem, the parson clung pathetically to his witch text after the laity had abandoned it in remorse and tears for the crimes and cruelties it has persuaded them to do.”

Does this tendency towards inflexibility mean that religion is inherently outmoded or bad? I do not think so.

The problem I see with the idealistic atheist argument, most poetically rendered in John Lennon’s Imagine, is the assumption that if you eliminated religion all of the world’s people would live together in peace.  If you eliminated religion you would change human nature.

If there were no religion we would still have all of the conflicts that arise when people try to come together in community.  There would still be tension between the needs and desires of the individual vs. the demands of society.  How much should a person compromise to get along?  When is conformity positive courtesy that allows a community to have a cohesive sense of being “us,” and when is the demand to conform simply wrong?

If there were no religion, you might not have Catholics fighting Protestants or Muslims fighting Jews, but you would still have cultures and communities with traditions and ideologies that would inevitably come into conflict with those of the neighbors. You might be able to eliminate the use of sacred texts that would allow each group to claim “God is on our side,” but you would not eliminate certainty, inflexibility, and passionate belief in conflicting ideologies.  (Think Republican vs. Democrat.  They do quite well at vilifying each other without a Republican or Democratic Bible.)

This is not an argument for God or religion, nor against them.  What I am saying is that the question of whether “religion” is “good” or “bad” is overly simplistic and will not yield much in the long run.  It is more likely to serve as a distraction from the real underlying question of the role of the individual in society.

Traditional Marriage

A couple of weeks ago I was listening to a panel on the Dian Rehm show discussing same sex marriage.  One of the panelists, who opposed legal recognition of same sex marriage, explained that those who are in favor of legal same sex marriage tend to frame their arguments in terms of rights while those who are opposed tend to frame it in terms of tradition.  (This guest did not bring the term “Biblical marriage” into his argument.)

It seems that those who hold the “tradition” view believe society bestows an honor on those to whom it grants the status of marriage.  It is a celebration, a recognition and a welcoming of the couple into the larger community.  Some feel that the marriage of same sex couples is not something that society ought to sanction or bless.

What I found most interesting about this guest was that he said that there was nothing stopping gay couples from gathering with their families and holding a ceremony to honor their commitment.  He was not opposed to that, only to the government legally recognizing the marriage.  When it comes to the legal status of marriage he said (I’m paraphrasing a bit because this was a couple of weeks ago) “We have to decide if it is a benefit to society to allow that.”

What is odd about this is that government recognition of marriage is the one part that completely ignores the spiritual, romantic and community aspects of the union.  The government doesn’t care if the couple is serious, or committed or in love, or what their parents think, or if they go to church or wear white or plan to raise a family. The government cares if you filled out the right forms and paid the correct fee.

Just as the government is not honoring the proud parents when it issues a “certificate of live birth,” the government is not bestowing a blessing with a marriage license.  Governments are not in the blessing business.

The reason the government provides a legal status of marriage is to make it easier for everyone else.  By granting couples the status of marriage, many legal processes are streamlined.  We do not have to reinvent everything for each couple or each relationship.  We have processes for co-parenting, joint property, divorce, inheritance that, as long as there are not too many complicating factors, simplify things for the rest of us.  We don’t need long explanations of what the intentions of the two parties are because they have defined it using this legal umbrella term of “marriage.”

Not including same sex couples who have similar intentions in our legal category creates a lot of extra headaches, litigation and work for our system.

What is interesting to me about the panelist’s tradition argument is that he believes gay couples should actually be entitled to the blessing, the honor and the welcoming embrace of community.  He would open all of the tradition to them, as he has no problem with them having wedding ceremonies and living as committed couples with all of the community acceptance of their status.

Listing a person of the same sex as spouse on an insurance form, however, seems to be the problem.

The fact of the matter is that “marriage” is not one thing.  There are legal aspects and social aspects to marriage.  Marriage is a property arrangement and can also be a spiritual bond.  Even though we call everyone we’ve given this legal status “married” no two marriages are alike.

If same sex marriage is not a question of rights, but of tradition, shouldn’t it follow that a person who holds this view would not care one way or another about one’s legal status (render unto Caesar…) but would be opposed to the honor and blessing of a ceremony recognizing the union of the couple?  Is this not where the blessing and tradition lies?