Friday, July 4, 2008

My Controversial View on Marriage

Whenever I discuss same-sex-marriage with people who have the same general view point that I do (pro), I get a surprised response. My position on same-sex-marriage is that:
  1. Individual churches or denominations should be allowed to govern what they consider to be appropriate for the rite or sacrament of marriage based on the rules of their own form of government; but
  2. The legal privileges and rights associated with what the government refers to as "marriage" should be governed by government alone.
For me, it's an issue of separation of church and state. I'd like to have the religious debate be separate from the civil debate. I'm not naive enough to think that's really possible, but I think that it can help clarify the issue from a legal and judicial perspective.

Think about the abortion debate: the court has somewhat protected itself from moral debate by creating a more logical, scientific framework for discussion. When does life begin? The court has a strong history of protecting the idea that murder is wrong and should be punished (with some specific exceptions like self defense). So, anyone who wants to debate the legality of specific abortion techniques or situations with court has had to do so within the framework of "when does life begin?"

Back to marriage.

I haven't really formulated for myself where the same kind of legal precedence for the civil act/state of marriage comes from. My working theory, though, is that civil marriage is about telling the government that you want to share certain legal authority, privileges, and responsibilities with another person - not in a corporate way as if you were forming a corporate partnership or something like that - in a personal way. In civil marriage, you indicate that there is one other person that you trust to make certain decision on behalf of the two of you (within the restriction of any and all premarital agreements). Admittedly, I'm still working on the right way to phrase this. To dissuade doomsday theorists - I'd argue that government has the authority to determine the nature of how its laws are shared by citizens, to ensure the legal protection of everyone involved. We wouldn't have to legalize polygamy and human-animal marriage.

On the other hand, faith-marriage would have an entirely different set of laws and governance, specific to the faith in which the marriage is sanctified. In the case of PC(USA), we're still figuring out where we stand on that. Some more progressive faiths already perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples, but can't affirm them as a civil marriage. More conservative faiths would continue to reject same-sex marriage, and likely continue internal debate on the issue.

But a faith-marriage would not provide the legal rights and responsibilities associated with a civil-marriage. The same couple would have to present themselves to a legal authority for that.

I also think the language has to change. In my version, "marriage" is the faith-union, "something else" is the legal-union. Maybe: civil union, personal partnership, nuptial. [I actually like that last one, maybe. It's not so sterile as "civil union."]

My point is that I think this breakdown is necessary to make the debate constructive:

Keep the faith-oriented part of the discussion within the church - what is the best course of action and decision to make within our community of faith based on our interpretation of what we consider to be the relevant body of knowledge? [Vague enough!?]

Keep the legal part of the discussion within the courts - what is the best course of action and decision to make within the aims and goals of existing laws and precedences? [Still hard to interpret, but a bit less subjective!]

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