A Massachusetts state representative recently stated that allowing gays to marry would violate natural law. Has anyone realized that divorce is also not part of the natural law of marriage? Even today the Catholic Church is still opposed to divorce, yet many Catholics seem to forget “’til death do us part.” Divorce exists because of a secular process to terminate a marriage. Remember when it was legally impossible for a husband to rape his wife based on concepts of natural law? We need to step back and think about marriage not just from a moral viewpoint but from a legal perspective as well. We need to put the issue of gay marriage in the context of the civil rights movements. Gay men and women should enjoy the same rights and benefits as citizens with full rights regardless of how contemptible you find their lifestyle.

Throughout the history of this country, people have claimed that African-Americans were naturally inferior. Both science and religion were used to justify slavery and then later Jim Crow laws. Confederate President Jefferson Davis announced, “[Slavery] was established by decree of Almighty God. … It has existed in all ages, has been found among the people of the highest civilization.” Blacks were segregated in the armed forces because integration would supposedly destroy unit cohesion. Note the similarity of this argument with having gays serve openly in the military today. Naturally, the laws of segregation were applied to marriage. People of two different races were not allowed to marry because it would upset the natural order of things. In a landmark case Loving v. Virginia the Supreme Court declared that such bans on interracial marriages were unconstitutional. “Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.” The year was 1967.

The Loving decision was based on the 14th Amendment. “All persons born or naturalized in the United States … shall [not be deprived] … of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person … the equal protection of the laws.” Secular state-licensed marriage involves life, liberty and property and that obviously these same secular rights must apply to homosexuals. The justices were clear that marriage certificates in Massachusetts must be granted to two mutually consenting adults and not obscured with terms like “civil union.” The secular financial and legal benefits of marriage cannot be denied based on sexuality and/or gender.

So what is the fuss when it comes to understanding the legal argument? It seems people have brought their personal religious beliefs into the secular government and courts. Part of the confusion stems from the fact that our secular government recognizes without question church marriages. However, that does not necessarily mean that religious marriages are the only guiding principle in how states decide what constitutes a marriage, nor does it force any religious organization to change its definition of marriage to match the state’s. The Goodridge v. Dept. of Public Health decision has absolutely no bearing on any religious group or church operating within the U.S. They are free to define marriage as they see fit.

Thus, the Catholic Church still does not recognize divorce but the state does. When it comes to the sanctity of marriage, we should be more concerned about the 50 percent of all heterosexual marriages that end up in divorce. But after hearing ridiculous comments like the one about reproductive organs in the Nexus (“Gays and Lesbians Should Be Happy With the Rights They Have,” Feb. 17), it is time to put the Massachusetts decision in its proper legal context and not one based on a fuzzy, misguided understanding of natural law. As we have seen, the laws of nature have changed for women and African-Americans. That is a proven fact, not a question of moral relativism or political correctness. Civil rights need to be applied to all people regardless of gender, race, sexual preference or creed, otherwise it is just a meaningless concept.

Christopher Cook is a graduate student in political science.