I've been giving the same-sex marriage issue a lot of thought lately.
If it hasn't come up in your state yet, it will. Sooner or later, some group of do-gooders is going to take up the flag and start raising hell about it.
While I'm a big fan of states rights, and believe that in most cases less federal government is good - I don't think that this is an issue that can be left up to the states. I don't see how we can legalize same sex marriages in one state and not allow it in others. I think life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness is the the birthright of all Americans, regardless of which state they live in and I can see a number of issues with the piecemeal application of citizens rights. For example, take a legally married gay couple living in California or Massachusetts. Say one or even both of them work for a large company with offices across the country. A promotion opportunity comes up that involves transfer to another state, one that doesn't recognize same-sex marriage. Do they take the opportunity? Would you? Why should any American's options for life, liberty, and happiness be limited simply because their potential neighbors don't approve of their choice of marriage partners? An American's rights shouldn't change simply because they change their state of residence, just as an American shouldn't be free in one state and a slave in another. This is a national issue, not a state issue.
As I said in yesterday's post, the only legitimate reason for limiting the rights of a specific group is a demonstrated danger to the nation as a whole or to individual citizens. For example, we do not allow the members of the North American Man/Boy Love Association to pursue their noxious fetish, because it can be conclusively demonstrated that in most cases they are pedophiles and a serious danger to children. We don't allow people to build atomic bombs in their back yard, or yell "Fire!" in a crowded theater, or carry explosives onto public transportation because those things can be conclusively demonstrated to be a danger to the public. We do not allow white supremacists to own people of color. We do not allow male chauvinists to prevent women from voting. All of these people are allowed to believe as they will, no matter how idiotic, but they are not allowed to act on their beliefs because those actions are a demonstrated danger to others.
However, I have yet to hear or have demonstrated how same-sex marriage between two consenting adults is in any way whatsoever a danger to the public at large, or even to any single individual.
Now, individuals and organizations are making the claim that same-sex marriage is somehow a threat to the traditional one man, one woman marriage. How? Specifically how? What data do they have? What long-term, verified, double-blind, validated science do they have? Note: I will not accept the Bible, the Koran, the Torah, or any other religious text as an argument. Period. Just as I will not accept any religious text as an argument of why it's OK for religious Americans to sell their daughters into slavery or stone adulterers to death in the church courtyard, or burn suspected witches in the public square. Show me solid evidence of how same-sex marriage harms America or denies heterosexual couples their rights, put it on the table and leave the religion out of it, and I'll listen.
OK. Now, here's the rest of it. Religious people have the absolute right to believe as they will. Their beliefs are protected under the Constitution. Churches have the right not to marry individuals they don't approve of, within the confines of their own sanctuaries. The Catholic Church, for example, has the right not to perform marriages between Catholics and non-Catholics. They have the right to require non-Catholics to convert to their belief system in order to enjoy the rights and sacraments of the church. And they have the absolute right not to marry same-sex couples. Forcing the Catholic Church to marry non-Catholics or gays is just as wrong as denying gay people and non-Catholics their rights. But the church doesn't have the right to impose their requirements on anybody who is not voluntarily a member of their belief system. The Boy Scouts have the right to exclude atheists, I don't like it but it is their right to determine the make up of their own organization.
So, the question is: How do we guarantee the rights of gay people to marry and pursue the so-called American dream, and still acknowledge the rights of religious peoples and organizations to believe as they will?
Our own history provides solid data on how not to solve the problem of rights:
- Denying one group of people their rights, in order to maintain the beliefs of others does not work, i.e. straight people can marry and enjoy the economic and social benefits of their legal bond, gays can't. This is no different than saying white southerners are full citizens, and black southerners are only half citizens. Don't think this ever happened? It did. Do some research into voting rights in the period after the US Civil War.
- Separate but equal does not work, i.e. marriage for straights, 'civil unions' for gays. Separate but equal has never worked, and never will, because it's really not equal, is it? If separate but equal was an equitable situation, there would be no need for the word 'separate.'
So, what do we do?
It's simple really, we get the state out of the marriage business altogether.
1) We make a specific separation between 'Marriage' and 'Civil Union.'
- We define marriage as a spiritual and/or romantic pair bond between human beings. Formal marriage is an acknowledgement of that bond. You can get married however the hell you like, according to the strict custom of your people, or just by making it up as you go along. While you may need permission from your particular God, or a guy in a funny hat, or your folks, or your friends, or etcetera - you don't need permission from the state. You may have to perform rituals and jump through hoops in order to meet the requirements necessary to get married in you church of choice, just as you may need to meet certain regulations in order to get married in your local community park (usually you have to pay a fee, promise to keep the noise down, clean up afterward, and keep your drunken uncle out of the bushes). Whatever, it's your wedding, do whatever trips your particular trigger. And if you want to dissolve your marriage, you do it in accordance with your belief system, it could be as complex as having to get permission from a guy in a funny hat, or as simple as just walking away. Now, here's the kicker, while marriage confers all the rights and privileges of your belief system, it confers no legal rights whatsoever. Period.
- Legal rights are defined by formal contract, i.e. Civil Union. That's where the state comes in. You pay a filing fee. You get a Civil Contract and declare whothehellever as your designated Civil Partner. Here's the cool part, you can declare anybody as your Civil Partner. You can declare only one person as your designated partner. While it would normally be the person you are 'married' to, it doesn't necessarily have to be. In fact, you don't have to be 'married' at all. Civil Unions can be between a man and woman, or between two members of the same sex - regardless of whether they are gay or straight. That's right, you could enter into a Civil Union with your roommate, friend, or who the hell ever. Civil Unions confer all the legal rights of the pair bond, i.e. insurance, housing, taxes, survivor benefits, child custody, inheritance, and etc. Think about it for a minute, you have a good job with benefits, your roommate has a job but doesn't have healthcare. You're both male, single, heterosexual and chase girls together. He's your best friend. You can declare an open ended civil contract and extend your benefits to him. Of course there's a fee, just as there is a fee for your spouse and children currently. Other advantages? Both of you have legal rights in regard to the other, you get hit by a bus and end up in a coma, he has the legal right to be your advocate - or not, specify what you want in the contract, with a default setting of "Unless Specified as .... ." There is no reason why a Civil Union has to be any more complicated than a basic Power of Attorney. You have a basic boiler plate that anybody can do for themselves, or you can get a lawyer and make it as complex and specific as you need it to be. One size doesn't fit all, tailor the legal instrument to whatever best suits your own individual needs at the moment. Later, when you find the right girl, you can dissolve your contract with your friend and transfers it to her - or not. The best part about the contractual civil union is that it places the power directly into the hands of each individual and takes it away from the state and the mob, which is exactly what our founders intended.
2) Marriage is between you, your spouse, and your God, church, coven, or Dungeon Master. Civil Union is between you, your partner, and the state. Your church may require you to have a declaration of Civil Union before they will consent to marry you, exactly the same as today. Don't like it? Find a different church, or suck it up, that's up to you.
3) Civil contracts can be required by law in the case of children, wealth, property, etcetera. They could be amended or modified as easily as any legal contract. Standard clauses could be inserted regarding disposition of property, children, and friends in the event of dissolution, making pre-nuptial agreements unnecessary and massively simplifying and streamlining custody hearings and 'divorce' proceedings, inheritance, and all the other crap currently clogging up our legal system.
4) Everybody gets the same deal. Everybody's rights and beliefs are protected.
For most people, nothing would change. They would live their lives and marriages exactly as they do now. But for many, including traditionalists, it would open possibilities that simply don't exist now.
Will it happen? No. No it will not. Instead we'll open yet another divisive debate here in America. We'll draw out battle lines, and declare yet another 'War' on the forces of evil. We'll scream and yell and protest. We'll hold votes and go to the Supreme Court. We'll pray. We'll march. We'll hold candlelight vigils, or break out the torches and pitchforks. We'll do all of these things and more.
And we'll get nowhere.