A Washington Post On Faith article in response to their question: The California Supreme Court has overturned that state's ban on gay marriage. Is marriage a legal right or a sacred rite? Should the state be involved in marriage? Should religious institutions?
"Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds..."
It's strange to think that America's view of love might be four hundred years behind the times. In Sonnet 116 ("Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments") Shakespeare devotes the whole poem to extolling love as immortal. "Love's not Time's fool," he declares, praising its constancy in all ages. We, on the other hand, seem quite eager to throw impediments in the way of marriage. I was struck by a news piece on TV a few weeks ago in which a hidden camera was set up in downtown Atlanta to watch people's reactions to a romantic couple necking in public.
When the couple was a man and a woman, or even two women, the reactions were overwhelmingly positive. Passers by smiled and even gave encouraging remarks ("How sweet," "More of us should be like that"). When the couple was two men, the police were called to the scene within five minutes. The most depressing part is that the police actually took the 911 call seriously (Yes, the situation was phoned in as an emergency). When they arrived, the cops were tipped off to the candid camera setup; otherwise, we don't know what they would have done.
If Shakespeare was right about love's immortal origins, society's ideas about love change, and with each change come new ideas about enforcement. Does the state have a right to regulate marriage? It does. Does the state have a right to regulate a sacrament? No. Because modern America puts marriage in a shadow zone somewhere between a civil rite and a sacrament, values keep shifting. It's significant that the right wing used homophobia very effectively to re-elect George Bush in 2004 whereas this latest ruling from the California Supreme Court has created very little backwash. Which goes to show, as wiser heads have said all along, that it's only a matter of time before gay marriage becomes a fait accompli, arousing little outrage once the public gets used to it.
Televised pundits point out that gays might actually be saving the institution of marriage, since straight couples have been fleeing from it for thirty years, and soon gay adoption may save the institution of childbirth as well. But the real issue goes back to Shakespeare's sonnet. To say that love must be constant in order to be true -- which is Shakespeare's whole point - means that one part of human life should be exempt from legalities. When love and non-love are given equal status, then making war and making peace are equally valid options, along with granting freedom and taking it away, hurting others and leaving them alone. It shouldn't be that way. Love should have absolute priority, and once it does, then war, violence, bigotry, and denial of freedom will be seen for what they are, violations of love and therefore aberrations in human nature.
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