Andrew Sullivan rightly corrects Camille Paglia for claiming that marriage is a religious concept that should be left in the hands of religious institutions while the state should concern itself solely with civil unions and the legal rights appertaining thereunto. (The truth is that marriage was always the business of the civil order; the religious dimension was johnny-come-lately.) Sullivan ends his post by lamenting the inability of Americans to accept a “simple rule of civil marriage for all; religious marriage for all who want to supplement it with God’s grace”:
Why is that so hard for some people of faith to grasp? Why are their marriages defined not by the virtues they sustain but the people they exclude?
The answer is that, like prayer in public school, displays of the Ten Commandments on public land and in government buildings, and retention of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the impulse to restrict marriage to one man and one woman draws on a certain popular desire to have civil society operate under a sacred canopy. So the fact that most religious bodies do not recognize same-sex marriage seems to many of their members dispositive. Even as they recognize that the institution can be purely civil (hey, justice of the peace!), they, like Paglia, accept its sacralization as a given.