To The Editor:

The separation of church and state is one of the basic principles upon which the United States was founded. One of the implications of this principle is that all levels of government in the United States are barred from making laws based solely on the teaching of any religion. Rather, illegal acts are those that injure another person, destroy another’s property, or otherwise infringe upon another’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness. Few Americans would deny that this tenet is absolutely imperative to a free society.

Civil marriage is a legal partnership between two people. It is sanctioned and recorded by the state, and thus is subject to the separation of church and state. When same-sex couples marry, they do not injure another person, they do not destroy another’s property, and they do not infringe upon another’s life, liberty, or pursuit of happiness.

Laws prohibiting same-sex marriage are based on the teachings of some religious institutions, some citizens’ personal sense of morality, or the idea that marriage between a man and woman is traditional. The fact is that U.S. citizens, individually or as a group, cannot legally impose their own religions, morals or traditions upon another person. Doing so is a violation of our fundamental human rights.

You can believe that same-sex marriage is wrong. You can hate the idea of it. You can choose to be part of a church that does not sanctify same-sex marriage. However, if you choose to support laws that prohibit same-sex marriage, you must admit to yourself that by doing so you oppose the separation of church and state. You must admit to yourself that you wish to impose your beliefs on another person. You must admit that you wish to infringe upon other citizens’ rights.

We in the United States boast of our free society. We look down on Middle Eastern countries where the government jails victims of rape or denies girls access to education based on the teachings of Muslim extremists. The truth is that the United States has a long, wretched history of violating these same principles. Women were barred from voting and interracial marriage was prohibited based on prevailing morals of the day. Even slavery was sanctioned as “God’s natural order.”

We can be proud that over the years our country has weeded out many of these practices. Laws prohibiting the civil marriage of same-sex couples are the next “weeds” that need to go.

Sarah Peper