06/14/2012 10:55 am ET Updated Feb 02, 2016

Yes, Marriage Discrimination Is Fishy

I loved my paternal grandmother a great deal, but there were aspects of her life that I never understood. She was a staunch Catholic; I wasn't. Grandma never ate meat on Fridays, a rule unique to Catholicism (and sometimes Anglicans). One Catholic site writes:

Sadly, many Catholics are not aware that the Friday abstinence rule is still in effect. The post-Vatican-II modification in Church law only allowed the consumption of meat if some other sacrifice or good work was substituted in its place, such as praying the Stations of the Cross, saying extra Rosaries, or some other additional similar offering.

As the story goes, a McDonalds in Cincinnati was in financial trouble. The owner realized he was losing a lot of Catholics on Fridays because they wouldn't eat meat. Worse yet, there was a 40-day period during Lent where they didn't eat meat, either. He started serving a fish filet sandwich, now common to all McDonalds. Certainly, many Catholics very sincerely believe that they are required to forego meat on Fridays. At McDonalds they were able to eat fish, honor their personal religious beliefs, and still allow everyone else to have their hamburgers.

That is why I'm confused about the Catholic view on same-sex marriage, a view shared with other religious sects. If the Catholic view on abstaining from meat on Fridays imposed a personal obligation on them but didn't required anything from non-Catholics, then why does the Catholic view of marriage have to be enshrined in law?

Certainly, this is not the place to discuss whether or not any one particular religious belief, or all of them, has any validity. We can, however, ascertain whether the religious beliefs of one group impose moral obligations on other groups. That Baptists believe in immersion of adults is no reason to prevent Catholics from baptizing infants, thankfully without immersion. The Catholic belief in celibacy for priests is not a reason to force rabbis or ministers to remain unmarried.

Christian sects have widespread disagreement regarding biblical interpretation. They don't even agree on what writings make up the Bible. Catholics have books Protestants reject. Mormons claim to have completely new books of scripture on par with the Bible. Martin Luther was rather negative on the books of Hebrews, James, Jude, and Revelations and didn't think they were necessarily part of the canon. Nevertheless, there are no laws requiring the use of any particular Bible. Catholics read books that Protestants don't, and Mormons read as scripture books that both Protestants and Catholics reject.

Each of us has personal, moral beliefs. Some may be very deeply held, yet we have no right to impose them on others through the compulsion of law. Your religious beliefs are values or concepts you impose on yourself, but they are not binding on others. It is one thing for you to practice your religion; it is another to demand that the law require everyone else to practice your religion, as well. History is replete with examples of what happens to freedom when people clamor for the law to reflect their religious values.

We forget that people were executed in the United States because of their religious values. The oft-praised Puritans, quite opposed to religious freedom, killed people for being Quakers. Anglican Virginia banned Puritan preachers, as well as Catholics, Quakers, and Jews. Puritans took over Catholic Maryland and then stripped Catholics of rights, imposing life imprisonment on priests.

This was not a new intolerance but a traditional Christian value going back to the time of Constantine. Martin Luther wanted the Catholic mass forcibly suppressed. In 1530 he said Jews should be executed. He argued that "the public authority is bound to repress blasphemy, false doctrine and heresy, and to inflict corporal punishment on those that support such things." In England, Queen Mary I, a Catholic, had 300 Protestants burned at the stake for heresy. John Calvin had a personal hand in burning poor Servetus at the stake. All of this was done because people argued that the law should reflect their religious values. Bodies piled up and oceans of blood were shed simply because the concept of separation of church and state was not yet accepted.

Yes, there is a place for law. Thomas Jefferson expressed the American ideal well: "No man has a natural right to commit aggression on the equal rights of another, and this is all from which the laws ought to restrain him." He also wrote, "The legitimate powers of government extend to such acts only as are injurious to others. But it does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no God. It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg."

People are properly restrained when they violate the life, liberty, or property of others, not merely when they offend the religious sensibilities of others.

Anyone following the debate on marriage equality immediately sees that what fuels opposition is not commitment to the ideals that Jefferson enunciated but to personal religious values, which should not determine the legal rights of others.

"Gay marriage" or fish on Fridays -- either way, it ought to be an individual choice.