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Get out of my marriage! Why All State-Sanctioned “Marriages” Should Be Called Civil Unions

Posted by politicizer on June 6, 2009

Michele Walk, Staff Writer

On Wednesday, gay marriage became legal in New Hampshire, the sixth state to do so. According to the Boston Globe, proponents of the new law, including its perhaps most important supporter, Governor John Lynch, cited “individual liberties and protections” as to why they supported the measure. As with many such events, supporters of traditional marriage stood outside the New Hampshire State House, evoking God and the fact that “God meant marriage to be between a man and a woman” (again from the Globe). Looks like a typical gay marriage legislation signing, no? There were people supporting the righteous quest of equal rights on the inside, and God’s army on the outside. Not only is it a topical issue, but it reinforces our political stereotypes; it’s the perfect news item.

Or maybe not. Anyone who has ever been exposed to political journalism (whether it’s Fox News or CNN, newspapers, etc) have all had it ingrained in them specific stereotypes about each party, such as how Democrats tend to favor increased government involvement in society. The issue of gay marriage, however, stands as a direct contradiction of that, as it decreases government say on who should have marriage rights. This is just one more example of why attempting to throw people, and their parties, in pretty little ideological boxes because of who they vote for, just doesn’t work. We – conservatives and liberals alike – are being strangled by ideological stereotypes, and it really needs to end. Our own individual principles, while they may remain constant, are subject to interpretation and re-application with each and every issue. When we allow ourselves to be covered by ideological blankets, it forces the debates to become petty and superficial.

Which is why, in my view, we don’t see more people talking about “gay marriage compromise.” Occasionally we hear about “abortion compromise,” but even that discourse is limited. If we could step outside of the emotional factors of the debate (which are, don’t confuse me, rightly held), and elevate the discussion to a higher intellectual level, there would be solutions to be found. One of which would be to call all marriages “civil unions.”

I know, I just infuriated Democrats and Republicans alike with that one. I can hear their confused, anxious, and infuriated voices now – “don’t bring my [straight] marriage to the level of that abomination!,” “my [gay] marriage is just as equal as a straight marriage!,” so forth and so forth. Let’s break it down. The term marriage was originally used in a religious context, possibility stemming back to the idea that marriage – the union of man and woman – was the union of the male and female parts of God on earth (don’t quote me on it, but I believe this is to be found in old Jewish theology). This two-person union, however, also has a significant basis as a societal institution (whether it’s farming or reproduction, let’s face it, things are just easier and more efficient with a two-person team). Oftentimes, governing and religious organizations have involved themselves in some way in these partnerships. Did religions adopt and sanctify this union, or did civil bodies steal it from religion?

Some view the two – religious and state-sanctioned marriage – as inseparable, and as one coherent institution. In the United States, they certainly are; “I do” is a binding religious and civil contract. This is unsurprising in a country such as ours, which largely belongs in a Western tradition: 600 years ago, the Pope also served actively as a politician and legislator. In fact, in the United States we live in a remarkable time period of separation between church and state. Marriage, however, still straddles both entities, and seems to be getting stretched to the point of no return. What if we were to separate the two, though?

“Marriage” is a term that usually totes along with it religious connotations, whether it’s a big white church or God’s approval of a union. Our government, however, also adopted the term as well, which is really the problem in the current debate. A government marriage is just a situation in which a union between two people is recognized by the civil authorities. Therefore, wouldn’t it follow that all government-sanctioned unions should be called “civil unions”? It’s not an insult to gay or straight couples, nor does it diminish the relationship of either sexual persuasion; rather, it recognizes the partnership for what it is: a civilly-sanctioned union.

Furthermore, marriage is a religious term that belongs in a religious context. Quite frankly, as a Christian, it insults me that my government thinks that it can raise any of its systems to those of God. It’s telling a self-centered and individualistic age (among all generations) that we think our own creations can rival God’s. Ha!

It is important for me to note, however, that I do not mean to reduce the gay marriage debate to mere semantics. A change in terminology will not spark mass consensus on the issue; however, in my view, it would certainly alleviate and expunge some concerns that exist on both sides. I argue that we should separate government and religious unions from each other, for the term “marriage” has a very different meaning in a religious context than it does to in a civil one. If we were able to, Governor Lynch wouldn’t have had to delay signing New Hampshire’s gay marriage law until language was inserted protecting religious bodies from having to recognize unions that they did not wish to, as he did. Let’s leave the state-created institutions to the government, and the faith-related to our religions.

A Massachusetts native, Michele Walk is a student at the George Washington University double-majoring in International Affairs and Economics. A former liberal Democrat, Michele now sides more often with Republicans and moderates.


One Response to “Get out of my marriage! Why All State-Sanctioned “Marriages” Should Be Called Civil Unions”

  1. legalboxerbriefs said


    The idea that Democrats believe in large government is a fairly ignorant stereotype. What unites the ideas — theoretically — of the Democratic Party is a belief in equality, justice, and dignity of all human beings.

    Thus, it really makes perfect sense, from a Democratic perspective, to support same sex marriage: it’s a step toward the “equal protection under the law” as enshrined in the 14th amendment.

    Furthermore, it should be pointed out that marriage is not inextricably intertwined with religion — you’re just falling for what the religious right wants you to believe. The fact of the matter is that if it were — if marriage were inherently religious — then only religious people would be able to get married, and marriages would only be able to occur by sanction of a religious figure and by religious ceremony. In reality, of course, this isn’t how it works at all: atheists and agnostics can get married if they want and when they wish; ship captains, mayors, and judges are all empowered to preside over marriage ceremonies.

    Lastly, while many might argue that, in an ideal world, the state would entirely remove itself from marriage, back here in reality that simply is not possible. In a nation that has 10,000 words written on the regulation of cabbage alone, it would be far, far too difficult to disentangle the institution of marriage from the benefits, rights, obligations, and judicial jurisdictions to which it is tied currently.

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