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Efforts to separate the religious
and secular aspects of marriage

California Senate Bill 906

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In this website, "SSM" is used as an acronym for "same-sex marriage."

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Background:

Marriage is a unique institution because it has both secular and religious aspects:

  • Governments see a major benefit in encouraging people to marry. Married couples tend to be able to provide a more secure environment for the raising of children. Many perceive married couples as having a greater stake in the community than singles. It lowers promiscuity rates and the rate of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It improves individuals' mental health and lengthens life expectancy rates. Thus, many governments at all levels offer special protections, rights and obligations to married couples and their children (if any).

  • Most religions view marriage as a religious ritual. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes it as a sacrament.

  • Analysis techniques are available that predict the likelihood of divorce for a couple with an accuracy of about 85%. However, few couples take advantage of them, In spite of an almost 50% divorce rate, essentially 100% of engaged couples assume their marriage will last until death. Pre-marital counseling also decreases the likelihood of divorce. The Catholic Church requires couples to attend a pre-marital course before they can marry in the church. Unfortunatley, it is based on concepts of marriage that few couples adopt. Some other faith groups have such courses, but they are far from universal.

  • As of early 2010, a comfortable majority of Americans favor allowing same-sex couples to enter into civil unions or domestic partnerships with the same rights as marriage. However, only a very slim majority of voters in a few states favor allowing same-sex couples to actually marry. To most voters across the U.S., "marriage" has a special religious and cultural meaning that they feel should be restricted to opposite-sex couples.

  • In some countries, like France, a couple will first go to a government office and register their partnership; this grants them and their children all of the state's benefits, privileges, protections, and obligations of marriage. If they wish, they can then go to a religious group to have an optional religious marriage; this grants them the status of marriage as viewed from within their religious community.

  • When the debate over marriage equality first surfaced in Canada, this type of separation of the civil and religious aspects of marriage was suggested for the country. However, constitutional experts agreed that this would require the agreement of all ten provincial governments, all three territorial governments and the federal government. The provinces of Alberta and Prince Edward Island have traditionally been very sluggish in offering even partial rights to homosexuals and bisexuals; they could be expected to deny agreement. So, this option was perceived as an impossible task. In 2005, the federal government redefined marriage via a bill in Parliament and same-sex marriage became avaiable across the country with one stroke of pen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. It has since become part of the Canadian culture. Outside of religious publications, we have never seen protests against SSM in recent years in the media. As young people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation realize that they are not heterosexual, they are aware that marriage and children are future options for them.

  • Some commentators interpret the introduction of Bill 906 in the California Senate to be the first step towards the separation of the religious and civil aspects of marriage.

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Senate Bill 906:

The act is titled: An act to amend Sections 300, 400, 402, 420, 421, 422, 423, 425, and 426 of the Family Code, relating to marriage.

Leno (D) introduced the bill on 2010-JAN-27. It received first reading on the same day, was referred to the Committee on the Judiciary, and was passed by that committee on MAR-23 by a vote of 3 in favor (all Democrats) to 2 opposed (all Republicans). 1

One purpose of the bill is to quell the fears of Californians concerning doubts raised by various fear-based campaigns against SSM. One of the most popular was TV ad campaign by the National Organization for Marriage (NOM). It implies that the real goal of persons advocating for SSM is not marriage equality, but an ending of religious freedom for Christians. Informal polls by fundamentalist and other evangelical news sources such as One News Now show that large numbers of their readers believe that if SSM is legalized that any clergy who refuse to marry a same-sex couple would be open to a lawsuit and his or her faith group might lose its tax exempt status. Apparently, their readers have no familiarity with the Free Expression clause of the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

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References used:

 The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. "Complete bill history," Senate Bill 906, at: http://info.sen.ca.gov/

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Home > "Hot" topics > Homosexuality > Couples > California >here

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Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance
Original posting: 2010-APR-07
Latest update: 2010-APR-07
Author: B.A. Robinson

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