Maryland threatens the sanctity of divorce

American family values are under siege again, this time in Maryland.

Two centuries of American jurisprudence and millennia of human experience are at the mercy of the state's Court of Appeals. The decision of the seven-judge panel may corrupt one of the most fundamental institutions of civilization: divorce. First some courts let kids divorce their parents. Now Maryland's appellate court has to decide if the state should sanctify the separation of a married same-sex couple.

Gay marriage isn't currently legal in Maryland — legislation allowing it was recently signed by Gov.Martin O'Malley, but it doesn't take effect until next year. In the meantime, the court is being forced to decide whether it can dissolve a marriage that the state doesn't recognize. By hearing the case, Maryland's judiciary assumed a power that threatens the historic concept of divorce.

Authorizing divorce for gays and children abolishes that institution as we know it. Were Jerry Falwell still with us, he would surely declare: "We need to protect the sacred Biblical definition of divorce from the reach of unelected judges."

Court approval of homosexual divorce starts us down an irreversible slippery slope, opening the door to sibling and polygamous divorce, making a mockery of traditional separation. With divorce cheapened by opening it to gays, straights won't file for it. In the Biblical view, honored in cultures around the world, divorce is between one man and one woman, sanctioned in Heaven, blessed by God and esteemed by religions worldwide.

As proof, nearly half the marriages in this nation, founded on Judeo-Christian principles, end in dissolution. The other half end with death of a spouse before divorce can be consummated.

Now same-sex divorce threaten the very social fabric of American life, changing the institution's definition. WhatGeorge W. Bushsaid about marriage applies equally well here: "[Divorce] cannot be severed from its cultural, religious and natural roots without weakening all of society."

Fortunately, Florida's judicial system got something right. Its appellate court ruled that people undergoing sex change operations can't divorce since their marriage was illegal in the first place.

Alas, Florida stands alone in protecting the sanctity of divorce. Voters in several other states have enacted constitutional amendments to ban homosexual marriage but ignored divorce. Despite the Republican commitment to family values and the protection of marriage, the Republican-controlled House of Representatives has failed to enact legislation protecting divorce from frivolous and demeaning legal efforts at same-sex separation.

Only an act of Congress defining divorce in its traditional context can save it. Now is the time for that champion of social conservatism, presidential hopeful Rick Santorum, to add one more plank to his platform. In addition to his anti-contraception, anti-abortion, anti-same-sex marriage views, Mr. Santorum should now urge congressional adoption of SODA, the "Sanctity of Divorce Act." His previous statement in defense of marriage would need only slight tweaking: "The states are powerless on this issue, and the courts have shown that they are all over the map regarding traditional divorce."

We need SODA now, allowing states to nullify same-sex splits legalized by other states. As a sop to gays who wish to divorce, let's enact "Civil Disunion" laws that stop short of divorce but allow separating same-sex couples to sever insurance, medical, community property and other ties acquired through "marriage."

But don't count on politicians. Although divorce is nonpartisan, enjoyed by Democrats (John Kerry) and Republicans (Rudy Giuliani), spineless elected officials quake in fear of the same-sex juggernaut despite overwhelming public support for traditional divorce.

Most religious leaders are afraid to speak out on this issue.

We can only hope that some brave clerics will deny communion to elected officials who support gay divorce, applying that same rule to voters who cast ballots for them. The pews, not the pulpits, truly represent American opinion on this issue.

The politically correct may plead the inevitability of universal, same-sex divorce. But in America the people rule, not politicians, clergy or judges.

So, Rick Santorum, are you ready to nudge John Boehner and his Republican House into passage of the "Sanctity of Divorce Act?"

Ralph E. Shaffer is professor emeritus of history at California State Polytechnic University, Pomona. His email is

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