Marriage vs. Unions

Marriage is an ancient institution whereby two or more people (generally one man and one woman) are officially pair-bonded in the eyes of the church and/or state (see also polygyny and polyandry). People that are married typically inherit legal, cultural, economical, moral, and spiritual rights and privileges withheld from non-married couples. Sometimes these benefits are intangible (i.e., social pressures), at other times they are very real (e.g., tax benefits, insurance premiums, health plan coverage, legal considerations). Most religions (that I’m familiar with) promote marriage as a foundation for stable and productive communities that are presumably more suitable for raising families (and future followers). Whether this is true or not is irrelevant due to the laundry list of benefits a couple can gain by Tying-the-Knot. Marriage has therefore become an entrenched institution within our society, despite ending in divorce 40% of the time (as of 2008).

Somewhere along the line, a politician got the idea that money could be made on licensing marriages. These laws may have initially been introduced as a way of prosecuting adultery (evident among 50% of males and 26% of females, according to Kinsey). They may have also been instituted to facilitate the probating of Wills. Later they were used to prevent miscegenation (as late as 2009). Whatever the reason, today in the United States, people wishing to marry are required to register with the county/state and then after a short wait period (often longer than is required to buy a handgun, and perhaps sensibly) either go before a Justice of the Peace or an official of whatever religious flavor they prefer. This final ritual is what makes the marriage official. This is ridiculous.

I am in no way against marriage. In this society, marriage has its benefits. At it’s heart, marriage is a legal contract. We can’t erase 1000s of years of historical precedence with one shuffle of the eraser, nor is that necessary or desirable. What we should do however, is sever the connection between church and state (as famously referenced by Thomas Jefferson in his 1802 letter to the Danbury Baptists). Counties and states should retain the ability to issue Civil Union licenses to whomever seeks them. Restrictions based on age, kinship, and current marital status should probably be retained. After a reasonable waiting period, the interested parties should reappear before a state authority to be officially recognized. If the bride and groom wish to be married by a religious figure, there should be no problem with that, but no religious ceremony should be granted binding powers by the state. In order to make the change seamlessly however, all prior marriage ceremonies (religious ones included) should be given Civil Union status.

Why bother? Because the term “marriage” carries with it several millennia of unwieldy baggage. Many Christians for instance, insist that marriage should never join two people of the same gender. Since many religionists believe that morals stem from a supernatural source, the use of their terms are forever encumbered by the tenets of their faith. People that are not of that faith should not be similarly encumbered, especially by the laws of an allegedly secular nation. Before same-sex marriages were legalized in Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, and Washington D.C. (and counting) many claimed that their legalization would destroy the institution of marriage and unravel the fabric of our society. It hasn’t happened yet. If it happens, same-sex marriage won’t be the cause. While the current trend of legalization is encouraging, it doesn’t solve the underlying problem. The state should get out of the marriage business and concentrate on Civil Unions as the basis for determining a couple’s  legal standing. Leave marriage to the churches, mosques, synagogues, and temples.

“There’s no reason that the government should prevent homosexuals from entering civil marriages because some religions object to the concept, any more than the government should ban atheism because some religions object to it.” – Lisa Pampuch

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