Towards a more civil union

There’s a report today on MSNBC: “A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that a majority of people questioned, by a 55-38 percent margin, oppose gay marriage. But it also found that people, by a 57-38 percent margin, support civil unions that would provide marriage-like rights for same-sex couples…”

This and other similar reports have long suggested to me that the call for gay marriage rights — a call that was used very effectively by the right-wing in past elections to damage the Democratic Party and its candidates and to greatly disadvantage the gay community — is simply the wrong call. Wrong for gays, wrong for the Democratic Party, wrong for the country.

The bottom line here is that marriage, as that word has traditionally been used, is at its very center a religious sacrament. And, quite frankly, in this secular country founded on the notion of separation of church and state, government in all its forms and permutations has simply no business recognizing, supporting or in any way being involved in a religious sacrament. It isn’t just that it shouldn’t recognize gay marriage; it shouldn’t recognize anyone’s marriage (or other religious sacrament). In other words, government shouldn’t be in the marriage business at all.

The only union government has any business recognizing is a civil union — a union that by definition creates civil rights and imposes civil responsibilities. Whether that’s a civil union of heterosexuals or homosexuals is insignificant; the key for government is that it is civil, not sacramental — secular, not religious.

If people then want to get their civil union blessed by whatever religious entity they happen to belong to, that’s all well and good. But it should be irrelevant to the institutions of government whether they do or don’t get themselves “married” by their churches. The First Amendment to the Constitution is quite clear: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” Confining certain civil rights (all of the civil benefits that flow from the married state) to those whose unions are acceptable to the religious community is surely a “law respecting an establishment of religion” and I can — at least for purposes of argument — buy the religious community’s argument that forcing it to recognize unions it considers abhorrent as sacramentally valid would “prohibit… the free exercise” of their religion. So fine. Get “marriage” out of government and government out of “marriage.”

Forget gay “marriage”. Civil unions for all.

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