A proposed amendment to the Colorado constitution appears designed to eliminate same-sex marriages. Yet it is so broadly drafted that it would most likely eliminate marriage entirely in the state of Colorado.
The proposed amendment, which would be subject to a ballot initiative if its supporters collect enough signatures, provides that “marriage is recognized as a form of religious expression of the people of Colorado that shall not be abridged through the state prescribing or recognizing any law that implicitly or explicitly defines a marriage in opposition or agreement with any particular religious belief.” It’s the last part of this text — the reference to “any particular religious belief” — that would prevent marriages from taking place in Colorado.
During the Jim Crow era, for example, white Southerners frequently defended bans on interracial marriage on religious grounds. Indeed, one judge argued that “Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents,” and that we should infer from this fact that God “did not intend for the races to mix.” Though this belief is not particularly common in the modern age, the proposed Colorado amendment prohibits any form of marriage that is opposed by “any particular religious belief.” So interracial marriage would be forbidden.
Many religious sects also forbid interfaith marriages. 2 Corinthians 6:14, for example, instructs the faithful not to be “yoked together with unbelievers,” a provision which can be read to forbid marriages outside the faith. Nor are such prohibitions limited to Judeo-Christian sects. In any event, any faith’s ban on marriage to members of another religion would be written into the state constitution if the proposed Colorado amendment became law.
Women who have had sexual intercourse prior to marriage are also out of luck. That’s because Deuteronomy provides that a woman who is not a virgin on her wedding night “shall be brought to the door of her father’s house and there the men of her town shall stone her to death.” The parents of virginal brides, meanwhile, are instructed to defend their daughters against accusations of premarital sex by displaying her marital bed sheets, stained with the evidence of her broken hymen, “before the elders of the town.”
And yet the proposed Colorado amendment sweeps even further. It also prohibits the state from recognizing any definition of marriage that agrees with a religious belief. To give just one example, many religions agree that a monogamous commitment between a man and a woman is a valid form of marriage. Yet the broadly worded proposed amendment would ban these marriages as well, simply because they accord with a “particular religious belief.”
The proposed amendment needs 98,492 verified signatures to qualify for the ballot. And even if it is approved by voters, it is all but certain to be struck down by the courts. The Supreme Court’s recent marriage equality decision held that marriage is a fundamental right, and thus all laws that deny this right are constitutionally suspect.