Madison County Opinion...

FEBRUARY 25, 2004

By Frank Gillispie
The Madison County Journal
February 25, 2004

Frankly Speaking

Remember, marriage is a religious ceremony
“Those whom God hath joined together let no man put asunder.” Marriage Service #1 from the Star Book for Ministers.
Three of the most important ceremonies a minister conducts are the baptism, marriage and funeral. I point this out to make it clear to you that a marriage is a religious ceremony. If it is not conducted by a minister, priest, rabbi or other spiritual leader, it is not a marriage. If it is conducted by a civil judge, unless he or she is also a minister, priest rabbi or other spiritual leader, it is a legal contract only!
I am expressing my personal opinion, of course. I do that a lot in this column.
It is important to define “marriage” today. Who has the right to marry, who has the right to conduct a marriage ceremony. What does a marriage license represent? Does government have the right to deny a marriage license to same sex couples?
Let me repeat my opinion that a civil “marriage” is not a marriage at all, but a civil contract no different from a contract to buy a house, jointly own a business or any other joint venture between two or more people.
A marriage is a sacred sacrament, a religions ceremony. It has been clearly shown by current law that we must have a wall of separation between church and state. We cannot have the Ten Commandments posted on a courthouse wall.
In the same spirit, we cannot conduct the sacred sacrament of marriage within those courthouse walls.
In my opinion, the current debate in the Georgia legislature, a constitutional amendment defining marriage as between one man and one woman, makes no sense. The State of Georgia, being a secular entity, has no right to either permit or deny marriage sacraments of any kind. Only the church can do that.
Nor do the state’s courts have the right to end a marriage. They can dissolve a civil partnership, dividing property and assigning the care of minor children. But ending a civil arrangement is not the same as dissolving a marriage. If it is a true marriage, only the church can end it.
Where does this lead us? In my opinion, any two or more people can enter into a civil contract to establish a joint domicile, share property or custody of children. Every person has an equal right to be a party to such a contract, and no state government has any right to deny them.
But once again I say that a civil contract is not a marriage. Only the church can conduct the marriage sacrament. If two people of the same sex want a marriage sacrament, they will have to find a church, temple, or mosque willing to conduct the ceremony. Even then the other churches have no obligation, and the state has no right, to recognize such a sacrament as valid.
In my opinion, the Georgia legislature, as well as those in other states, should define a civil contract establishing joint domiciles, property and child custody and make that contract available to all applicants. But they should make it clear that no civil ceremony can be construed to be a sacrament of marriage. And that prohibition should continue until God is readmitted to our governing circles.
If school prayer is illegal, then so is a government marriage. We can’t have it both ways.
Frank Gillispie is founder of The Madison County Journal. His e-mail address is

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By Zach Mitcham
The Madison County Journal
February 25, 2004

In the Meantime

Negotiating water line should be done in the open
Representatives from a pipeline company and our local government gathered around the big table in the austere, old courthouse last week to talk real business.
There was no sign on the meeting room door, but there could have been. It would have read: “Public not allowed.”
The talk was of true importance to this county. It concerned having Colonial Pipeline pay for a water line into the Colbert Grove Church Road area, where the harmful contaminant, benzene, is still detected in deep well water from Colonial petroleum spills.
Think about it, clean drinking water for current and future residents on contaminated land is a significant public health matter.
On a broader scale, couldn’t a water line funded by a pipeline company factor into the county’s long-term water service expansion plans?
And aren’t you interested in knowing how your county government negotiates with a company that has contaminated your land or your neighbor’s? Does the county hold the company’s feet to the fire for messing up local land? Or does the county forfeit its moral rightness, instead meekly pursuing a bargain that will best appease a massive business?
If I pose these questions to you — as I did to myself — would you not be disappointed in me if I chose to avoid such a meeting?
Would you not be angered if you took an interest in the matter and were not allowed to attend such a gathering?
I went. I was turned away.
Had you gone, you would have been told to leave, too. (However, you could have attended the 8 a.m., Tuesday morning IDA meeting on the issue. Of course, this meeting was minus Colonial and, therefore, minus the heart of the matter.)
The legal argument for closing the truly important meeting was that there was no “official” meeting — though there were enough people for a refreshment table. In truth, there were at least 10 or more people in attendance, but only two were actually on the county industrial authority: chairman Tom Joiner and non-voting IDA member Wesley Nash, also the county commission chairman.
With only two IDA members present, there was no official quorum of the industrial authority, which would have required public notice and input. Given the law on open meetings, the fact that only two industrial authority members were present was no mere coincidence.
But there was significant IDA representation, including the former IDA chairman John Scoggins, authority attorney Victor Johnson, IDA secretary Marvin White and recently-hired water director Tyson Culberson.
I left the meeting Thursday after being told that the public would be notified when an agreement between Colonial and the county had been ironed out.
In other words, “people will know what we want them to know when we want them to know it.”
If we buy such philosophy from government, we accept that we should not be privy to the nuts and bolts and the give and take of truly significant matters.
If we say give us a water line by any means necessary, we abide by the “ends justifies the means” principle.
But the method matters.
Openness in government matters — not just when it’s easy, but, more importantly, when it’s difficult. That’s when real character, real courage and real commitment to public inclusion are shown.
That closed door philosophy is too common in government. There are, of course, bright examples to the contrary. But government officials often prefer to treat the public as the child who should play with his toys while mommy and daddy talk about real matters behind closed doors.
Colonial officials want to avoid public settings. To their credit, they are willing to meet one on one with government officials, residents and press members — I met with them Friday and will have more to report later on their answers to my questions concerning contamination.
But a county government shouldn’t settle for a company’s private way of doing business. Wouldn’t Colonial’s private talks be much more noteworthy if they were accompanied with a desire to meet in any setting, public or private?
No doubt, keeping talks private is in Colonial’s best interest. It’s an information control measure.
But Madison County’s leadership shouldn’t bend to suit Colonial’s best interests — especially at the expense of a forthright relationship with the citizens they serve.
The county should push for Colonial to do what’s right.
And it should do so openly — lest we forget what’s right.
Zach Mitcham is editor of The Madison County Journal.
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