This morning the Montana Legislature hosted another round of the seemingly endless debate over legalizing same-sex marriage.
Even though same-sex couples have been getting marriage licenses from their local courthouse since Mid-November, when a federal appeals court struck down Montana’s “Marriage Amendment,” the legislature is considering a bill that would legally define marriage. But this bill would define marriage as “between two persons”, crossing out the old wording about “a man and a woman.”
Helena minister Dick Weaver was one of the witnesses in favor of the bill, intended to enshrine the new definition of marriage into state law.
“While I do find language in the bible that honors marriage between men and women I do not find language that condemns same sex marriage," Weaver said.
"Nor do I find language that would mark these or any parts of the bible as being immutable laws of God for all times. What I find instead is powerful testimony about how people of faith understood and grew in understanding, their relationships to God.”
People of faith lined up on both sides of the measure, presenting arguments about the sanctity of marriage, the role of the family in society, and the right of all people to feel that they, and their relationship with their partner, receive equal treatment.
Pat Plowman, from Carbon County, turned the tables a bit, raising the specter that the faithful could find themselves oppressed if same sex marriage becomes the law of the land.
“I’m sure you are aware of the use of such laws to force Christians and members of other faiths to participate against their faith in homosexual weddings as well as force schools, to allow those confused as to their anatomy to use opposite sex restrooms. Once again I respectfully request you table this bad law. And remember, God loves you.”
Not all the arguments in favor of same-sex marriage turned on religious themes. Robin Turner, with the Montana Coalition Against Domestic and Sexual Violence, said officially recognizing same-sex marriages, rather than simply tolerating them by default, sends an important message.
"Our coalition has an interest in supporting dignity and equality not only with the people we work with, but within all of our communities and we feel it is important we support laws which support families, and which support equality, and for that reason, we would request a do pass on House Bill 282.”
But others claimed that recognizing same-sex unions now, before the issue has been settled once and for all, would be like taking the cake out of the oven half-baked. While most state bans on same sex marriage have been invalidated by federal appeals courts, one court upheld a state’s right to define marriage as it wants. That disparity, what lawyers call a “circuit split”, set the stage for the Supreme Court to finally settle the issue in a ruling expected this spring. Until then, Jerry Laszloffy with the Montana Family Foundation likes Montana’s law just the way it is, even if it is not in force.
“If the supreme court rules that the states should be able to define marriage as they see fit, then the Montana Marriage amendment and the underlying code should all remain intact. The people of Montana by nearly 70 percent said that marriage should remain defined as a union between one man and one woman and they spoke clearly and we urge you to uphold the will of the people as voted.”
That vote was in 2004, and by many accounts the state, and the country, have been rethinking their position on same-sex unions. Still, House Judiciary Committee members were skeptical about changing the law before the Supreme Court rules, making approval of this bill unlikely.