March 27, 2013 7:42 PM
No matter which way the Supreme Court rules on the California ballot measure and/or the Federal “Defense of Marriage Act,” I actually reconciled this problem in my own mind months ago. Oddly enough, the solution came to me while watching (or suffering through) the interminable series of 2012 Republican presidential primary debates. As the candidates surrounded the issue and formed another GOP circular firing squad, I heard pieces of the answer but no one put it together.
First, what purpose does marriage serve? As it is certified as a public act by each of the individual states, it is a contract with certain rights and responsibilities. The very fact that it is administered differently in each state, just like driver’s licenses, concealed carry permits, or mortgages, makes it seem to me that it is already a civil act. No matter how uncivil the marriage might become, its dissolution is also administered by the state via divorce proceedings.
Therefore, what pundits describe as “civil unions” perform the function of marriage by causing two people to be recognized as one for contractual purposes such as inheritance, jointly owned assets and debts, and healthcare proxies. However, by not calling it marriage, same-sex couples miss out on over 1,000 different legal provision relative to housing, estate taxes and much more.
The only way to peel this onion is to separate the religious aspect from the civil aspect.
When I took my confirmation classes (Lutheran, not Catholic), I was taught that marriage is a Sacrament administered by the church, along with Baptism, Communion and the rest. However, since marriages can also be performed by notaries public and ship captains, the religious argument breaks down. Therefore, it is up to the respective churches to determine its standards for performing marriages and for whom.
If we understand that any church is a collection of persons who profess common beliefs, I would find that creates a natural boundary of offering the sacraments to members and withholding them from non-members. If I was attending a Catholic mass, I would expect not to be offered communion but able to enjoy the homily and hymns. Imposing my “Lutheran-ness” in a Catholic setting (like saying something about the practice of buying candles to light for prayers) would just be rude and I would expect it not to be welcomed. In short, it’s none of my business. Even though the Lutherans and Presbyterians have a mutual recognition, I had to go through Presbyterian counseling before getting married in a Presbyterian church. It’s their building and I needed to adhere to their conditions. Not an issue to me at all, no different from passing any other entrance exam or prerequisite to access some other kind of service. If you want to be a member of a conservative religion, those choices abound and if you prefer a more open system, look into the Unitarian Universalists. “You pays your money and you makes your choice.”
Even a church marriage must also be registered with the state (and I’d also suggest Neiman-Marcus). This tells us that the act of a private association (a church body) still needs the imprimatur of the government to be recognized for government benefits. Since that same seal of approval can be affixed to non-church weddings, we are really talking about two distinct items that create a classic distinction between church and state.
We certainly would oppose, and rightly, any act of government that said only Catholic marriages would be recognized as “real.” Even if it only said marriages in churches were considered authentic, we know that there would be opposition because all of those marriages at the county clerk’s office wouldn’t count. It’s unlikely that a government would invalidate its own acts. So, lets put this absurdity aside and get to the root of the issue.
The controversy is not about how people get married but who is getting married. Personally, I don’t care and I suspect that a generation from now we’ll find through research that most children raised in ANY household with two parents do better than in single parent households. So what if the two parents are of same-sex, same race, mixed race, or any other combination? Under the law, recalling Lady Justice being blindfolded, it should make no difference at all.
So, here is the way to turn down the heat under this bubbling cauldron. I offer this draft bill:
1. Any two consenting persons past the age of majority shall be issued a marriage license and, once duly witnessed and recorded, those persons shall be considered married.
2. Dissolution of any such marriage shall be accomplished according to the existing statutes on dissolution of marriage, division of property, custody of minor children and any other such matter.
3. Legally performed marriage in any state shall be accorded the same status in any of the United States.
4. No provision of this act requires any religious order or denomination or congregation thereof to offer any of its sacraments or rites to non-members not in conformance with that body’s rules.
5. Congress shall hereafter get out of the way and allow the states and their people to go about their business unimpeded. (That last section is a personal favorite!)
Under this simple plan, same-sex couples can have the same joys of mingling their record collections and finances, looking after one another, and, sadly for some, pass through the rites of alimony. It’s none of my business, or the government’s, to get in the way of that process or to force any church to facilitate it. Live and let live, indeed.