Civil unions a good idea for all

Gay unions should include all rights and responsibilities of the current state-issued marriage licenses.

In February, the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court shook the foundation of one of our most sacred social institutions: marriage. In doing so, the court forced a public dialogue about equal rights, religion and the role of religion in the state.

In the fallout, 11 states have man-woman marriage restriction questions on November’s ballot, and there has been a renewed movement against judicial activism. Additionally, turmoil surrounding the word “marriage” has left more than a few of us with flashbacks of what “is” is.

Heck, I thought things were fine. But the questions forced me to examine my own religio-political philosophy. Step by step, I waded through the weighty issues raised by this social dilemma and found civil unions must be allowed.

Marriage as an institution not only means different things to different people, but it has had different connotations, purposes and definitions to different peoples throughout time.

However, one thing that remains consistent is that the marriage bond is between one man and one woman. To the extent I can find, marriage has never meant the bond between same sexes.

That’s not to say it can’t change. Definitions change, period. If you don’t like change in general, you’re not going to like this change either.

Utah, pre-Americana, defined marriage as one man married to many women. Utah tightened the definition of civil marriage to one wife only and became the 45th state. Today, the question is whether we are called to move the line once more to include same-sex bonds.

Here’s how the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court introduced its reasoning when it ruled in favor of same-sex unions: Chief Justice Margaret Marshall for the Court wrote, “Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, and for their children, marriage provides an abundance of legal, financial and social benefits. In return, it imposes weighty legal, financial and social obligations Ö

The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens.”

In the end, the court concluded it could not find a “constitutionally adequate reason for denying civil marriage to same-sex couples.”

There is a difference between the church and the state – even if you decide that Thomas Jefferson’s Danbury letter creates Constitutional principles outside the text, separation of church and state is good, practical law.

The U.S. government cannot establish a national religion. Matter of fact, per the First Amendment, the government cannot tell you how to practice your religion either. What the government can do is work for the interests of all of its people.

This is why the church-state dichotomy is so important. Leave to the church what is the church’s and to the state what is the state’s. I believe Jesus himself commented on this in Matthew 22:15, when the Pharisee’s attempted to trick him regarding taxes he said, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s.” Now let us apply that principle.

Allowing gays to obtain a legal acknowledgment of their bond promotes the state’s interests, because, as Marshall cited, marriage promotes stability. In this case, that means legalizing civil unions, or gay marriage, or whatever you are most comfortable calling it.

What it does not mean is that churches must sanctify these marriages. As a Christian, the Episcopal gay bishop controversy in New Hampshire was unsettling because of the Bible’s opposition to gay sex. I would be distressed if a church sanctified gay marriages, because homosexual activity is contrary to the teachings of the Bible. (In the spirit of fairness, I must point out that heterosexual activity outside of wedlock is contrary to Biblical teachings as well.)

However, the state shouldn’t be inhibited by my Biblical principles; the state should act by consent of the governed while protecting minority rights and ensuring equality before the law.

Beyond the principle or its broad application, there are some relevant specifics. Gay unions, marriages or bonds should include all rights and responsibilities of the current state-issued marriage licenses – nothing more, nothing less.

I don’t suggest that we treat gays as a special class, but one and the same. If homosexuals want to have the legal privileges marriage affords, they also must accept all the obligations of divorce. Frankly, there no longer should be government-issued marriage licenses – “marriage” is primarily a religious word anyhow – rather, all couples should be issued civil unions.

Civil unions for all people should be legal. They promote equality and tolerance of different worldviews. I won’t be having the same-sex type, as I suspect many of you won’t, and having civil unions won’t decrease the worth of my marital bond any more than it should decrease yours.

Additionally, the debate over what to call it surely will continue to smolder. The word “marriage” should be confined to religious institutions.

Civil-union contracts for couples should be available to all who seek them under a more legal title, one that actually reflects the function of the document.

Now we can all get back to working on our own problems and religious hypocrisies – and not hinder those whom it actually affects their fight for worthwhile civil equality.

Peter Ragusa is a University student. Please send comments to [email protected]