Friday, February 13, 2004

I Favor Civil Unions

Gay marriage...I guess I'll go ahead and weigh in. First, I can't conclusively say whether homosexuality is a choice or is more of a genetic-type lifestyle. I'm inclined to believe the latter, so let's put it at 10% I think it may be a choice compared 90% sure it isn't. Truthfully, though, I don't think whether it's a choice or not is germane to the topic of "Gay Marriage."

As an educated, tolerant and rational individual, I concur that homosexuals have a right to a legal, civil or government recognized bond just as do heterosexuals. I believe that the nature of such a homosexual union can be defined so that it is limited in the same way as are heterosexual (ie; no polygamy, incest, marriage to minors, etc. is allowed), if it isn't already implicitly recognized that such is the case. In short, homosexuals have just as much right as heterosexuals to commit themselves to a legal union. My rationale comes from nothing other than an applicatoin of reason to the topic. If we are to accept that homosexuals are equal, than they should be accorded all of the rights that others enjoy.

I believe that deeply religious people have strong convictions and have a right to disapprove of homosexual unions. Reasonable religious people (be they Christian, Jew or Muslim) can "hate the sin and forgive the sinner" and are tolerant of homosexuals, if not their lifestyle. They believe in the teachings in the Torah, Bible, or Koran, holding them up as the center of their morality and believe that they state that homosexuality is a sin and not acceptable. They uphold the institution of marriage as a sacred union, more in the domain of the church than the state. To them it is a moral entity not a civil one. They believe that to allow those who they believe are sinners to be morally sanctioned by being allowed to marry would be a sin and against the tenets of their religion(s).

Marriage was "institutionalized" by the Catholic Church during the Middle Ages. In a common tactic, the Catholic hierarchy co-opted a heretofore Pagan ritual and legitimized it to assist in the conversion of heretics. Over the centuries, its nature as a fundamentally religious sacrament has been recognized and embraced. Although it is notable that after the Reformation, some Protestan sects, such as the Puritans, actually did not believe in a church marriage ceremony as it smelled too much of "popery," the Judeo-Christian heritage of our country has recognized marriage as a legal institution. As such, marriage has become firmly placed in the domain of both civil and moral jurisdiction. Regardless of the history of the institution, be it ancient, medieval, colonial or modern, the fact is that now marriage is regarded by secularists as an essentially legal entity and by the religious as an essentially moral and religious entity. This is where the conflict lies.

Neither side will be able to compromise their principled position on this matter. I truly see that both sides have reasonable arguments. The religious hold marriage as mostly sacred, the secular hold it as mostly legal. For those secularists who favor gay marriage to impugn those they oppose (whose opposite stance is based on deeply felt religious convictions) as "bigots" and "close-minded" and the like are unfair and exhibit a lack of sympathy for deeply held religious beliefs as well as, dare I say, intolerance. Those religious people who would refuse that homosexuals have a right to a legal union don't have a rational argument from a legal standpoint and are also exhibiting a degree of intolerance.

What is the solution? A civil union. Yes, it's a comprimise, and may have problems of its own. To my mind, the preferred method would be to allow the people of each state decide, either through their duly elected representatives or referendum, whether they want "gay marriage" or not.

(*Note on the Massachusetts' Supreme Court decision. Massachusetts Law made no provision for Gay Marriage and the Supreme Court made the assumption that as such Gay Marriage is condoned. Why didn't they conclude that, because there was no provision in the law addressing homosexual marriage, then it was up to the Mass. Legislature to define marriage such that homosexual marriage is included. In other words, why is the burden of proof, so to speak, on those who seek to maintain the status quo and not on those who seek to change it?)

Again, even if a particular state legislature should decide to ban gay marriage or define a civil union as the equivalent of heterosexual marriage, it wouldn't stand on its own. Should another state legislature condone gay marriage as defined by its current proponents, the "Full faith and credit clause" of the Constitution would be used to apply the broader definition nationwide. In other words, regardless of the decision of a particular sovereign state, it would have to submit to the dictates of other states.

This leads to the enactment of some form of Federal Marriage Amendment to the Constitution of the United States. This is a course I personally don't favor, but in the spirit of compromise, it may be the only solution. Obviously, the Amendment would have to be worded in such a way as to establish that legal union and marriage are the same thing, but that marriage is solely the legal union of a man and a woman while a civil union can be between any two consenting adults (or something similar). I realize this is the concept at its most simplistic, but the exact Amendment proposals can probably be found elsewhere. So, a so-called FMA would be one solution.

Another solution would be to take marriage out of the civil domain altogether. Everyone simply has a legal, civil union and marriage becomes simply a religious ceremony. It would confer no legal right and would be relegated to the status of a religious tradition. I'm fairly certain that the latter is unacceptable to all. To the religious for obvious reasons; to homosexuals and their supporters this would be undesirable because they seem to be seeking the implicit endorsement of their status that the term "marriage" confers. This leads to another point; maybe the problem does really just boil down to the word: MARRIAGE. Perhaps the solution would be as simple as making two types: Civil Marriage and Holy Marriage (or something like that, just be careful not to call it Secular Marriage, or S.M., may not work ;).

Attempts to equate this debate to that of Civil Rights are irresponsible. Civil Union and Marriage are not a Separate but Equal argument in the same vein as the entirety of our segregationist past. How is a simple, legal document stating that homosexuals are legally joined and have all of the rights that such a union entails somehow less legal, less equal than legal marriage? Blacks experienced inferior services, dwellings, etc. How can a legal concept such as civil unions somehow be inferior if it is clearly defined as equal to marriage. Are there degrees of legality in a conceptual or metaphysical plane?

Perhaps the real irony is that some of those who fight against the perceived attempts of the "religious" to push religion on those who don't subscribe to it are at the same time pushing their "religion," secularism, upon those same "religious." Neither side should push their view upon the other. Maybe this is the only instance, but separate but equal would truly be a solution given that it is strictly a concept, an idea, not a tangible, physically concrete entity.

Finally, I believe that the proponents of gay marriage have needlessly approached this from an antagonistic angle. They have essentially attempted to ram this idea down the throats of the public. Most Americans are tolerant. They don't really care, but if their cherished institutions, as they define them, whether historically accurate or not, are perceived to be under attack, they will resist. Polls indicate that the country is at least marginally against gay marriage. To most it is still an abstraction. It has been shown this past week in Massachusetts, one of the most liberal, and presumably gay marriage-friendly states in the nation, that passionate debate will break out as this issue reaches each state. It is by no means a slam-dunk for either side in Massachusetts. In fact, right now, the Constitutional Convention regarding this issue has been suspended for a cooling off period. Attempts to include provisions for civil unions have been rejected by both sides. This failure to compromise indicates the entrenched, all-or-nothing positions staked out by both sides. To my mind, compromise is possible, and it is called Civil Union.

***I realize this may be a somewhat rambling treatise, but this is how I feel, off the cuff, with no time to evaluate logically the construction and coherency of the above. Keep this in mind before assailing me on the finer points.