Essay donated by a visitor to this web site
"Solving the same-sex marriage debate"
by Judy Trimarchi
There is a solution to the dilemma we are facing in our courts, legislatures
and churches regarding "same sex marriage." The
solution is simple, elegant, and ultimately could resolve many of the issues
that make this subject so divisive.
The fundamental problem with our current system of dealing with marriage, civil
unions, gay partnerships, and the like is that two separate and distinct domains
have been collapsed into one word: marriage. As it stands today, a person that
is married has certain legal rights and responsibilities with regard to his or
her partner. That person often also takes on certain religious / spiritual
commitments towards his or her partner. Together, these legal and religious /
spiritual obligations constitute marriage.
The answer is to "uncollapse" these two domains and deal with the two aspects of
marriage - legal and religious - separately. This separation would allow
governments to deal with the legal aspects of marriage exclusively, and
religious institutions to deal with only the spiritual aspects.
The first step in uncollapsing the two domains would require a new vocabulary to
discuss marriage, since currently that word represents the collapsed, and
therefore, problematic system which we currently use. In this essay, the legal
act of marriage with be called "legal joining" and the religious act of marriage
will be called "wedding."
Legal joining should be the job of government in much the same way that issuing
a marriage license is today. Couples would register their intent to legally join
at a county office, sign a legal document, and perform whatever other actions
that their particular locality requires, i.e. blood tests, waiting periods, etc.
If a particular locality wanted to add more pomp and ceremony to the act,
couples could appear before a judge much the way that new citizens do.
Legal joining should be available to all dual-sex and single-sex couples with
identical rights and responsibilities afforded each. After a couple is legally
joined they would have all the legal rights and responsibilities afforded to
married couples today. And unlike today’s "civil unions," which are often
offered to same-sex couples as a substitute for marriage, legal joining would be
the only civil contract available to any couple seeking to legitimize their
status legally. Government would no longer be in the marriage business, but
would do what government is supposed to do - deal with the legal and contractual
aspects of a couple’s life together.
Wedding, on the other hand, would be solely in the hands of the religious /
spiritual community. A couple wishing to solemnize and / or sanctify their
relationship would wed in whatever manner they chose. This act of wedding would
be completely optional and have no bearing on the legal joining or lack of legal
joining a couple has undertaken. Each religious institution would be free to
decide, as they already are, whether or not to wed same-sex couples.
Many couples would both legally join and wed at close to the same time, much as
couples today get a marriage license and a few days later have a religious
ceremony. It would not be necessary, however, for this to happen. Some couples
might chose to wed, but not to legally bind their finances, property, etc.
together with legal joining. Others might legally join, but never have a
religious / spiritual wedding ceremony. Still others might do one and then much
later do the other. For example, a couple might legally join as soon as one of
them finalizes a divorce in the courts, but perhaps have to wait to wed until an
annulment decree is granted by their church.
Earlier, I said that legal joining should be available all dual-sex and
single-sex couples with identical rights and responsibilities afforded each. In
actuality, each state would have the same right that they do today to deny the
legal rights afforded to legally joined dual-sex couples to same-sex couples. I
believe, however, that once the marriage of anyone is no longer in the hands of
government, the urge to deny same-sex couples the purely legal rights and
responsibilities of legal union will dissipate.
A sweeping reform of the manner in which marriage is handled in this country
would be needed, and I’m not saying that this reform would be quick or easy to
implement nationwide. Our nation, however, has committed to sweeping reforms in
the past with much success, for example in the areas of civil rights, food
safety, and the environment. I mention the
difficulty of sweeping reform and our successes in order to inspire others to
see this solution to the "same-sex marriage" dilemma as a lofty yet achievable
As Judy points out, one of the problems associated with marriage is that it
has both civil and religious components:
|It involves a government registration process that grants married
couples on the order of 1,500 rights and obligations. |
|It also can involve a religious ritual -- considered by some faith
groups to be a sacrament -- similar to baptism or first communion.
In many countries in Europe, the two functions have been separated. A couple
goes first to city hall to process the papers to register their union with the
government. If they wish, and if their faith group is willing, they can then go
to their cathedral, circle, church, mosque, synagogue, or temple and have
a religious ceremony.
This method was considered in Canada, when the debates over
same-sex marriage in that country were in full swing.
However, it would have required the consent of all ten provinces, three
territories and the Federal Government. It was deemed too complex to
attempt. So the Federal Government simply replaced the
marriage act, widening the definition of marriage to include same-sex
couples. Tens of thousands of same-sex couples have since married.
Originally posted: 2006-NOV-21
Latest update: 2006-NOV-21
Author: Judy Trimarchi