The biggest problem facing the advocates of “Same Sex Marriage” is that, despite all the platitudinous statements our country may make about “Separation of Church and State,” marriage is our one willful blind spot. “Marriage” is, in the eyes of most religions and a majority of religious people in the United States, a spiritual union of two people deriving sanction from a governing Deity. That the State recognizes this union and provides certain legal and social benefits is nice – but that sectarian “blessing” is not important. The Roman Catholic Church does not even recognize the “marriage” of two people if it is performed contrary to the laws and customs of the Church, regardless of what the state may say. Other churches have different stances as to how a “valid” marriage is performed, but they hold the same general view – Marriage is Sacred. Marriage is a Sacrament.
On the other hand, the United States Government, and the governments of all the individual States, view marriage as a legal contract. They do not care what any particular church, mosque, or synagogue may have to say about it – it is strictly a legal union for purposes of inheritance, power of attorney, and family creation. My spouse is, in the eyes of the state, the most closely related person in the world too me. Not related by blood, but by legally binding contract, until such time as that contract is declared null and void by a judge. If I am lying in a hospital bed, and decisions have to be made, my spouse is the one who makes them.
The point of these two complementary situations is this; the state needs to get out of the “marriage” business. To sanction marriage, to perform marriages, to claim to be the “authority” that binds two people together in a spiritual covenant, unnecessarily blurs the line between Church and State. The State takes the roll of priest in these situations, when what really needs to happen is that the State needs to grant only one thing – legal spousal status.
In my opinion, the State needs to take the same attitude about “Domestic Partnerships” that the Roman Catholic Church takes about “Marriage.” That is, the state shouldn’t care who you choose to marry at your church. You should be able to marry whomever you please. If you wish to marry two, or three, or four people, and you find a church willing to perform the ceremony, why does the state care? Such marriages, performed by a priest or rabbi or imam, would be spiritual in nature, and have no legal status.
What the state needs to do is be in the “Domestic Partnership” business. This would look a lot like “marriage” to the world, but unlike marriage, which comes with way more religious baggage than is good for the state right now, it would simply be the “legal side” of the equation. You would go to a “priest” for your marriage, but you would go to a judge or otherwise authorized bureaucrat for your “Domestic Partnership.” While you may have an unlimited number of “spiritual spouses” if your religion permits it, you get one “legal spouse.”
There are some who argue that this differentiation opens the door to other issues. What if I want more than one legal spouse? What if I have a dozen “spiritual spouses” and I die? Those questions are not new, nor do they have to be dealt with any differently than they are today. The democracy can make the same rules for Domestic Partnership that we have for “marriage.” However, by removing the word “marriage,” we remove the religious entanglement which is at the crux of the current problem.
What about all the marriages that currently exist? Obviously, they are grandfathered in under these rules. However, going forward, if you want to be married, you go to a priest or other religious official, or just start telling people you’re “married,” if that satisfies you both. However, the designation “Domestic Partner” requires a “piece of paper” from the state. A Spouse then becomes your Legal Partner.
The upside to this arrangement is that we no longer discuss whether the State should recognize “Same Sex Marriage,” because the State no longer cares about “marriage.” The State cares about legal status, and that’s all it should care about anyway.