By Camille Veselka (advocate of LGBT rights)

When ancient Mesopotamians created the first religions, they sought to explain the natural world — to fill in the blanks that science could not. These beliefs were occasionally the foundations of societies. As time moved on and new scientific advances came to be, the need for various gods and ceremonies diminished. People could explain many aspects of the world around them. However, some religions such as Judaism, Christianity, and Islam remained prominent. Nowadays few countries are firmly based on religious beliefs, yet in many countries religions affect certain aspects of law. Allowing religion to affect laws limits people’s freedoms. Religious influence should remain out of laws and out of politics in general.

Religion is a belief held by certain people — not everyone — meaning that other people have absolutely no right to force their religious beliefs on others. Allowing religions to affect laws forces religions on uninterested parties. Although some laws — such as laws against murder or thievery — are also found in religious texts, they are basic moral and ethical codes and address issues that are blatantly wrong. The problem is when a women in a third-world country is found positive for HIV because she had no access to contraceptives; or when two young parents, who can barely take care of themselves, have a child because they had no access to any form of family planning; or when people who are deeply in love cannot express that love through marriage because a centuries-old religious belief, which has oppressed these same people for ages, says that it is wrong.

Many people, including the Pope, argue that same-sex marriage ruins the sanctity of marriage. Even if this were true, sanctity, as defined by the Oxford English Dictionary, is “the state or quality of being holy, sacred, or saintly,” meaning that the word sanctity in itself refers to religion. So yes, same-sex marriage may ruin the religious standard of marriage. However, the fact of the matter is that homosexuals want marriage in the purely legal form and religions do not have to approve of this. Same-sex marriage is not prohibited anywhere in the constitution and would therefore be perfectly legal in this country if religions had no influence in the matter. These religious beliefs often bias people, including politicians, when determining the legality of certain issues.

Religion should remain what it truly is — a voluntary belief, not science and not law. One of the main issues in the world today is the fact that to some people, religion and the Bible or the Torah or the Qur’an is science and the law. This belief has, and still is, causing fatal problems throughout the world. In many places, forms of contraception are illegal, only because various religions place a large importance on pro-creation. Even if these women are extremely impoverished, and cannot feed themselves (let alone a child), and have a large chance of dying due to unsafe birth conditions, they have no choice but to have the baby. Even more controversial is the issue of abortion. 52 of the world’s 196 countries only allow abortions to save the mother’s life. That is 26 percent of the world. This prevents family planning worldwide and can be extremely detrimental to a woman’s mental and physical health.

People around the world say that abortion is immoral because it kills a living being. This is true — abortion does kill a life, but in the same way that having scrambled eggs for breakfast kills baby chickens. Until 56 to 91 days (sources differ) a baby in the mother’s womb is considered an embryo, and embryos cannot sense pain. In fact, many scientists believe even the fetus cannot feel pain until the third trimester, which is after about 99 percent of abortions are performed. Abortion is purely the science of medicine and biology, therefore doctors are much more suited than religious leaders to say whether abortions are moral or not. Most scientists and doctors are absolutely fine with giving abortions and thus it would not be such a heated issue in the world if religion did not interfere. Religious interference in such issues can create confusion amongst people who could mistake religious beliefs for science.

All this does not mean, however, that I oppose religion. The moral and ethical codes religions emphasize are very beneficial to society. Religion is a wonderful thing if people are mature enough to realize that it is a belief and not a science. Religion was created to explain and console people on the world and how it works. However, in this day and age, when science can explain many aspects of the natural world, religion should simply be looked upon as a tradition or belief and not a science and certainly not a law.