Civil Unions for the State and Marriages for the Church
In this second post I want to suggest something that I know won't happen, but I think that in the controversy over same sex marriage, if adopted it would make things easier for all involved.
Marriage is a religious institution; it always has been. The state never should have gotten itself into the marriage business. Putting the church and the state together as partners in the marriage has not only distorted the character of marriage, but has created problems for both church and state that could have been avoided.
So, my proposal is that the state get out of the marriage business all together and issue, everyone straight and gay, civil unions. The word marriage is to be reserved for the joining of two people by the religious institution-- church, synagogue, mosque, et al. (FYI-- I am certainly not the first person to suggest this. More than a few individual, religious and secular, have long been arguing for such an arrangement.
Here are my reasons for this.
First, as I said in my first post, the state and the church have two completely different understandings of marriage. For the state, marriage is a right not to be denied; for the church, marriage is a gift that is not owed to anyone. As long as we refer to both what the state does in giving licenses, and what the church does in joining two people together in holy matrimony as marriage, the two will continue to be confused as many persons, religious and not religious, already do.
Second, ensuring that the state offers civil unions to all couples means that all couples will receive equal treatment under the law, both gay couples and straight. All persons get the same legal rights and protections under the law.
Third, any couple who wants their union to be a marriage can then seek out the appropriate religious institution for their nuptials. Yes, there are churches that will not perform same sex weddings--Catholic, Orthodox, and some Protestant churches, but there are also Protestant Churches that will--the Episcopalians, for example, and some other mainline Protestant denominations. It will not be all that difficult to find a church that will perform a same sex wedding.
Fourth, this differently terminology will reinforce the notion that the church is about the gift of marriage while the state is about the right to civil unions, and that means churches cannot be sued for refusing to perform a same sex wedding ceremony because decisions about marriage will be solely in the realm of the religious. No one will have a right to get married, but everyone will have a right to a civil union.
Fifth, it seems to me that this approach to marriage/civil unions is one definitive place where the separation of church and state will truly apply, since it most often is a rather vague and amorphous distinction trotted out only when it will further an individual's or group's political agenda.
It this change were to be made, I think it would solve many headaches for those on both sides of the gay marriage issue.
A Weblog Dedicated to the Discussion of the Christian Faith and 21st Century Life
I do not seek to understand that I may believe, but I believe in order to understand. For this also I believe, –that unless I believed, I should not understand.-- St. Anselm of Canterbury (1033-1109)