12 March 2008|
How to rescue marriage from the government
By Joe Holmes
Marriage is one of the most important social institutions. It is the cornerstone of the family unit; it binds people together in spiritual, practical, and legal ways. There is overwhelming statistical evidence that children who grow up in a two-parent household are more likely to succeed in life and less likely to get divorced later in life. Thus, it seems logical that state-sponsored acknowledgment of such a valuable institution exists. However, legal and spiritual commitment to another person is also arguably the most personal decision an individual can make. As such, while the state should acknowledge certain legal rights between married parties, it should also allow individuals to define marriage for themselves, given the wide variety of religious and moral opinions people hold.
Marriage has its roots in religion. Indeed, nearly all world religions have endorsed the notion of a loving and monogamous relationship as being a vital component to spiritual fulfillment. Despite this compelling reason to get married, the state should not be involved in marriage for the sake of spiritual fulfillment. We offer certain legal privileges and rights to married individuals for social and practical reasons, not spiritual or religious ones. Coupled with the essential notion of separation of Church and State, I believe the only rational policy is that the state’s conception of marriage should be entirely divorced of its religious connotation and history.
This brings us to the most contentious element of marriage today – whether or not homosexuals should be allowed to marry under state and/or federal law. In my opinion, disallowing gay individuals to marry violates the values of equality and justice that are so very essential to our American existence. The Fourteenth Amendment guarantees that no state shall “deny to any person the equal protections of the laws.” And while all the social conservatives will say, “this was clearly not what the Fourteenth Amendment was about,” I will respond by saying that this was the same mentality that allowed anti-miscegenation and separate but equal policies to persist for nearly a century after the Fourteenth Amendment was ratified. The laws of every state allow heterosexual couples to marry – however, only one state, Massachusetts, allows homosexuals to marry. A number of states have legal unions for same-sex couples, but refuse to name these relationships as “marriage.” This solution, granting same sex couples similar rights but refusing to grant truly equal treatment to gay couples, is in many ways a slap in the face. Additionally, these protected legal privileges are only enforceable in the granting state and do not carry any weight outside of the state where the privileges were granted.
I believe that having a two-tiered system of partnership rights – one for gay couples and one for straight couples – offends fundamental notions of fairness and equality. The only two options are: having civil union for all couples and allowing “marriage” to retain its religious meaning only outside of the state or classify both heterosexual and homosexual partnerships as marriage in the eyes of the state. The government cannot discriminate against homosexuals in such a fundamental way. However, religious organizations should not be forced to recognize unions that they believe to be immoral or against their teachings. As a result, the most workable solution may be to abandon the notion of “marriage” as defined by the state and to adopt a universal system of domestic partnership rights for homosexuals and heterosexuals couples alike. Marriage is a loaded term when we use it in the context of the gay marriage debate. Thus, the most effective way of preserving equality and fairness while also allowing people to hold different spiritual and religious opinions may be to abandon the term “marriage” as a state sanctioned institution and substitute in its place domestic partnerships. If a couple wants to get “married” that should be the exclusive purview of their religious organization. The state should not be in the business of discriminating or deciding which couples are morally or socially acceptable and which are not.