Government has no place to rule on marriage

The unemployment rate in Cleveland County, N.C., hovers just under 12 percent. In North Carolina, the rate is at 10.4 percent.

When a major problem affects thousands in North Carolina and Cleveland County, legislators are expected to work for solutions. Instead, ours went looking for another problem.

With the state’s economy in peril, legislators decided to go into the marriage business.

Sen. Jim Forrester, R-Gaston, sponsored Senate Bill 272, the Defense of Marriage Act. It’s already illegal for same-sex couples to marry in North Carolina. But Forrester wants to cement that principle as an amendment to the state Constitution.

Maybe it’s a nice distraction from what they’re not doing.

Or maybe it’s just another example of the hypocrisy of the ultra-conservatives.

Those same Republicans who say less government is better for our country now feel the need to step in and attempt to govern morality.

Those same Republicans who say less government is better decide that when it comes to what happens in the bedroom or at a wedding altar, government should come in and rule with an iron fist.

Marriage is an institution with deep cultural, religious and civic roots, and perhaps the firestorm over same-sex unions is showing us that it’s time to start untangling those roots.

Government may oversee the benefits and responsibilities of the civil contract component of marriage, but it has no place setting moral and religious restrictions on who may or may not get married.

Faith groups are already free to define marriage on their own terms. If same-sex marriage were legal in the United States, the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious freedom ensures that churches would never be forced to perform same-sex wedding ceremonies or extend their ecclesiastical endorsement.

That should be good enough for those who believe homosexual behavior is wrong. They are free to voice that viewpoint and urge others to adopt it, but they shouldn’t expect government to impose it on people of all faiths.

Whether people of the same sex should be allowed to marry in North Carolina is a healthy debate. It’s an issue that should be discussed in churches, in restaurants and in living rooms. Why does the government need to get involved in this debate?

There are other issues that need its attention.