Marriage, Civil Unions and Religious Freedom

I first posted this piece on Righteous Anger.

With Obama’s recent stance change on gay marriage, I’ve been giving more and more thought to the idea of marriage. The underlying feelings I have aren’t any different than they used to be; I’ve just been trying to determine if my beliefs are internally consistent. Philosophical musings, in other words. This is what I’ve come up with: the legal protections associated with “marriage” should go away for everyone. Radical idea? Well, hold on a minute…

My idea isn’t that all of the legal privileges of a committed relationship should go away. My idea is that they should not be defined by or as “marriage”–for anyone. The idea of the civil union has been part of the marriage debate for a while. The problem is that it’s been framed as the bastard child of marriage. There has been the superior state of “marriage,” which only heterosexual couples were to enjoy. Then, gays, lesbians, and bisexual people in same-sex relationships were to have the lesser state of a “civil union.” That’s unacceptable, in my opinion.

When my husband of 20 years and I got married, it wasn’t because we believed in the traditional definitions of marriage or any of it’s related bullshit. We married for the legal protections. In February of 1992, we learned we would become parents later that year. Marriage would legally protect us and our child. There are still a lot of legal penalties to having a child out of wedlock. Issues of paternity, rights to the child, child support, taxes, medical decision-making, and a whole host of other shit are made easier if you’re married. So, we got married about a month after we found out about our daughter’s impending arrival. Had we not gotten married, our commitment would have been the same; marriage was just to head off the legal bullshit.

All that legal bullshit is relevant whether you’re in a same-sex or an opposite-sex relationship, whether you have kids or not. Being able to make medical decisions for your partner, being able to cover each other on your insurance, getting the tax breaks, and so much more. It’s vital, important stuff considering the society we live in. The video “It Could Happen to You” explains some of the vitally important stuff better than I ever could.

So, what to do?

Christianity was a late-comer to Western marriage. An interloper, if you will. Marriage was constituted in a lot of ways that had little to do with religion. The Catholic Church (which was Christianity at the time) got into the act fairly late. One of the quotes used to justify marriage stated, “But if they cannot contain, let them marry:  for it is better to marry than to burn.”  (1 Corinthians 7:9)  In short, if people cannot control their sexual urges, they should marry rather than “burn”.  It has debated whether this meant “burn in hell” or “burn with passion”.  Doesn’t matter which way you interpret it, it’s hardly advocating marriage as a holy, desirable state filled with “sanctity”. So, why are those who want to “protect marriage” so sure that their religious views are what constitute marriage, when Christianity didn’t even establish a sacrament for marriage until late in the game? Arrogance, mostly.

My fix for this problem? Get rid of all legal protections for those who are “married”. If you want a Christian wedding, have it. If you want a Wiccan handfasting, have it. If you want a Hindu wedding, have it. If you want a Jewish wedding, have it. But none of those things will give you legal protections. (Right now, all but Wiccan handfasting do provide legal rights and protections. So, the state is picking and choosing between religions, establishing religion, in violation of the First Amendment.) You can have your religious beliefs and ceremonies, but the state should not be sanctioning them or giving you legal privilege based upon those beliefs or ceremonies. This is especially the case when the government is picking and choosing which religious ceremonies give people those legal privileges.

So, would the legal privileges for committed relationships go away entirely? No, they would not. Civil unions would be required for all couples who want such privilege. Same-sex gay, lesbian and bisexual couples would have the same rights as opposite-sex heterosexual and bisexual couples. All would require civil unions.

The religious right claims that marriage is defined by what “god” wants. Guess what? The state isn’t supposed to be recognizing what your god wants as part of the legislative process. That’s in the Constitution. Want your religious ceremony? Go for it. Just don’t ask for tax breaks or other legal recognition based upon it.

In short, the legal commitment of individuals should be the only thing that provides legal rights and privileges for all couples. Those legal commitments should not in any way, shape or form be bound to religious rites. That’s what the separation of church and state is all about.

Share your thoughts, but be aware that comments on this blog are moderated. Please be patient, as it may take me a few days to moderate comments.

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