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Essay donated by a visitor to this web site

"Solving the same-sex marriage debate"
by Judy Trimarchi

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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 todayís "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 coupleís 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 Iím 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 goal.

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Webmaster's note:

As Judy points out, one of the problems associated with marriage is that it has both civil and religious components:

bulletIt involves a government registration process that grants married couples on the order of 1,500 rights and obligations.
bulletIt 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.

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Originally posted: 2006-NOV-21
Latest update: 2006-NOV-21
Author: Judy Trimarchi

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