Civil contract solves problem of gay marriage

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September 23, 2007

 

My last two columns were about gay rights and homosexuality in the Bible. I am writing about this subject because I know a number of gay men. Talking to them has made me aware that they are no different than straight people. Gays and lesbians live in our communities, shop at our stores, work in the next cubicle, and participate in community events.  They even worship in our churches.

            The only difference is that they are attracted to members of the same gender. Most want to find someone they love and want to share their lives together, just as heterosexuals do.  My friends are in long term relationships ranging from ten to thirty years.

            The alleged solicitation of sex in a public restroom in Minneapolis by Sen. Larry Craig (R-Id)   were not only illegal but immoral.   Let me be perfectly clear that public solicitation of sex and engaging in public sex is immoral whether done by homosexuals or heterosexuals.   I also want to be clear that I am writing about same gender attraction, not sexual activities or practices.

            When I was a teen, a riddle was circulating that had an ending like a parable. The question was “What do you call two men who love each other?” The first answer that most people gave was homosexuals or some derogatory equivalent word. The surprise answer however is Christians.

            I believe the next step in this discussion of homosexuality is “gay marriage”. The juxtaposition of those two words creates an emotional barrier that prevents reasonable discussion for some people. 

            Opponents of gay marriage say that allowing gays to marry is an affront to the true meaning of marrage. Clearly the traditional understanding of marriage is a union of a man and a woman for purposes of companionship, love, and having children. For some it is also a convenience because of laws that favor marriage. Anyone who thinks that marriage is about sexual activity has a very narrow understanding of marriage. . Such a marriage is on a weak foundation.

            For religious people marriage is the union of a man and woman in a lifelong relationship ordained by God.  Some say its primary purpose is the begetting and raising of children.

            An argument against gay marriage is that gays and lesbians cannot beget children. This however is a smack in the face of a heterosexual couple who can’t have children for one reason or another. Is their union not a marriage?

Even though marriage is deeply embedded in human tradition and culture, it is a civil contract that has civl and religious overtones. That is why we have to obtain a “marriage license” in the United States in order to get married. A man and a woman cannot go to a clergy person or public official and get married without that license.  That license is given by the various states with differing requirements. These may include a waiting period, counseling about marriage, and an expiration if not used within a specified time period.

            Separation of church and state is a high priority and ideal in this country. Yet we have blurred that separation whenit comes to marriage by allowing marriages witnessed by clergy people to be legal contracts. In other words the consummation of that license is done in a religious ceremony.

With this civil contract comes civil rights. These include filing joint tax return, the right of one to attend the other in the hospital, having health insurance together, right to inheritance, and favorable estate transfer provisions. A spouse also has the right to retain a home when the other spouse needs to be in a nursing home.   All of these “rights” are civil and not dependent on a religious meaning of marriage.

            Separating the civil contract of marriage from the religious ceremony would solve the problem of “gay marriage”. Gays and lesbians could marry in a civil ritual that gives them the civil rights of marriage but does not obligate churches to accept or witness such civil marriages. If the gays or lesbians belong to a church that accepts them, then they can ritualize it in a religious ceremony as well.

            Simple, straightforward, and honest.

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