Understanding as I do that the rush toward same-sex marriage is the single most important issue facing American homosexuals today–far more important than, say, fighting AIDS or ending the employment and housing discrimination that is legal in a surprisingly high proportion of US cities and states–I will once again ask a question that I think I’ve asked before: Why is government in the “marriage” business at all?
Would it not be much simpler for cities and states to sanction and register only civic partnerships–consensual agreements that address the legal rights and responsibilities of the partners involved, regardless of their sex or sexual orientation? Once registered, the partners would then be free to engage (or not) in whatever religious, spiritual,or cultural ceremonies they might choose, completely separate from the legal proceedings? This would seem to address many of the issues on both sides. All couples would be treated equally in the eyes of the law, there would be no question of the government “redefining marriage”, and churches would be free to confer religious rites to whomever they chose.
The civil partnership would, again, address all the legal issues currently involved in marriage, such as child support, estate issues, survivor benefits, healthcare issues, and taxation. The religious ceremony, if invoked, would cover spiritual issues only and have no legal authority. And no church would be forced to perform such a ceremony in violation of its beliefs, just as churches are not currently compelled to bless the unions of people outside the faith, divorcees, etc.
Unfortunately, it won’t happen. Why not?
Mainly because most of the folks who insist they have “no problem with gay rights” are by and large (maybe even unconsciously) lying when they say that their only concern is the use of the term “marriage”. My gut feeling is that they very specifically want a legal definition that separates heterosexual partnerships from any other type, regardless of what they say or what either is called. Opponents of same-sex marriage who stress that it is an institution defined by their own version of “God” are terrified that people of different faiths will begin to assert that their own beliefs actually permit same-sex marriage and would begin calling their own services “marriage”. This would be unacceptable to a certain population even if the religious ceremony carried no legal weight whatsoever.
If marriage is indeed a spiritual institution that should only be defined by the church or the culture, why not let it be just that? Everyone wins: Government institutions are freed from the constraints of discrimination that is clearly unconstitutional, and churches retain control of an institution they consider holy. The legal aspect “lives” where it should as does the spiritual aspect.
Too bad it’s just too logical ever to fly here…