Redefining Marriage

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Well, frankly, I think it’s about time we did.

Those of us intelligent enough to understand things like, oh, say evolution, can easily envision a time long ago when sharing one’s life with another was a simpler process.  Two people find themselves attracted to each other and, obeying the primal biological and/or emotional urge to mate, (or just have sex,) they seek that little cave they can call their own and (possibly) have their 2.5 kids & a dog.

Then, along come the gods.   Well, maybe not literally, but someone touches the divine, or anthropomorphizes the natural forces that rule their lives, or just decides to make some up, and then sets them self up as the authority on “what the gods want”.  [1]  (This becomes so popular that franchises are offered.)  From this time forward, mating/marriage is no longer a strictly personal affair.  In fact, once religion becomes strong enough, it becomes positively dangerous to engage in “unauthorized mating”, i.e., living outside religiously approved relationships.

Eventually, civil governments form and, pretty much, just accept the extant religious definition of marriage.  (Which, it should be pointed out, was not always inimical to same sex couples.)   Eventually, they find there is some value in knowing when people are born, to whom, and when they die.  Marriage, at this point, starts to take on a a civil, as well as a religious, aspect.  If it was just a matter of bookkeeping, it wouldn’t really matter, but when those records start deciding things like, oh, who inherits from whom, or who gets to combine their income and receive a tax break, then there is a material benefit from a civil entity and that entity must be bound by civil law to treat all people as equals.

Now there has always been a kind of conspiracy going on between civil and religious authorities.  Each supports the other: civil governments granting special privileges to religious orders, which in turn bless their wars and provide “moral” justification for “rendering unto Ceasar”.   But this is an uneasy partnership in part because each must be wary of the other withdrawing its support.  The price of religious support of a civil government is often the establishment of a monopoly for one religion, something which, from time to time, leads to sectarian violence as members of other religions are persecuted as heretics.

The founding fathers [sic] of this country put separation of church and state into the Constitution for a reason.  Europe had endured centuries of war from the schism that enveloped Christianity.  Protestants and Catholics killed each other with great zeal for what appeared to be, really, nothing more than a difference of religious opinion, but which was, in fact, a power struggle between competing churches.  I’d like to think that the authors of the Constitution looked at each other and said, “Let’s leave that all behind us, shall we?”

Yes, many, if not most, of the founders were good Christians, but they saw faith as a personal choice.  Yes, most might well be horrified at the thought of same-sex marriage, but, well, many of them thought slavery was just fine too, so they weren’t exactly batting a thousand to begin with.

And, well, times change.

The problem could be resolved, quite simply, by distinguishing between civil and religious marriage, relegating the religious aspects to the church of the couple’s choice (if any) and the civil aspect to the government, which would then be free to treat all couples, gay or straight, as equals.

Ah, but there’s that pesky word ‘marriage’ to deal with.  How do we divvy that up?  Option A is a little grammatical notion called ‘adjectives’.  Laws would be re-written, (or understood,) to refer to “Civil Marriage” as disinguished from “Religious Marriage.”   Alas, the churches are bound and determined to maintain their monopoly on the word ‘marriage’ itself.  (Which begs the question of which church owns the word marriage.  In the eyes of the Unitarian Universalist Church, my wife and I are ‘married.’  In the eyes of Catholic Church she grew up in – hell no.  Literally, in this case.)

Option B is to leave marriage as a religious institution and convert the estate of “marriage” to “civil union”.  Of course, this would mean rewriting a majority of the laws to refer to civil unions instead of marriage.  A massive undertaking and something that – in the eyes of the church leaders – would be tantamount to usurping their role as the sole arbiters of who gets to shack up without paying a penalty.

I do not expect the churches to change their ways, (though I would think better of them if they did,) but I do expect them to see reason.  The barrier between church and state is important.  It is as much a part of what America is, as the right to free speech or the right to vote.   To allow churches to continue suborning the government into trashing a key element of the First Amendment diminishes us as a nation.

The country seems to be moving in the right direction.  Maybe, before I die, my wife and I will be considered married no matter which state we’re in.  I know some people will never recognize us as married, but I can live with that.  What I cannot live without is our right to inherit from each other, our right to put each other on our company’s health insurance, or our right to be treated, under the law, the same as any other married couple.   Anything less is not only immoral, it is Un-American.


  1. [1]Or God.  (Singular, for completeness.)  Also, I’m not indicting religious belief here, just commenting on the tendency for most religious organizations to be, well, pushy, self-righteous busy-bodies.