Thursday, May 15, 2014

‘til death do us part?

Once upon a time I was married. Sort of. We were young, in love and crazy for each other. We complemented each other – where he was gregarious and outgoing I was more introverted and shy socially. I couldn’t (and still can’t) find my way around without navigational assistance, and he’s the human GPS – even in places we had never visited before. Our interests were not identical – giving us the ability to learn from each other while still being able to live our own lives. We formalized our partnership in the only way that was permissible then: we had a commitment ceremony with our nearest and dearest. It was an incredible day and a special time. It ended abruptly and painfully. For us there were no rules, no laws – we made it all up to suit our needs: the commitment and the un-commitment. It all happened a lifetime ago – ten years before Gay Marriage became an “Issue.” Would things have been different if the gay community (let alone the wider community) been conditioned to same sex commitments? Doubtful. But the path might have been easier for both of us. As we are upon the 10th Anniversary of same-sex marriage this weekend, I’ve been reflecting on what it all means.

May 17, 2004 Marriage Equality became the law of Massachusetts. Since then many other states have followed suit, and just last summer the Supreme Court declared Proposition 8 (the law banning gay marriages) unconstitutional – moving the process along even quicker. According to the USCensus there are over 600,000 same sex couples in the US – and about 100,000 have married. It’s an incredibly small amount compared to the approx. 60 million of non-gay marriages the Census reports on. The reality is that there’s probably lots more. The 2020 Census will have much better data. It's also unclear from press reports (and anecdotal stories), but I've been unable to locate any example of how these marriages have negatively impacted non-gay marriages.

Most of the opponents of gay marriage cite various Biblical references as supporting evidence of their resistance. While some may be fearful and bigoted against gays, a huge number of people are conflicted about their desire for fairness and equality and their underlying religious beliefs. Others, however, have taken it further – trying to establish “religious exemptions” for businesses and religious organizations that oppose gay marriage. The argument is that if you disapprove of something based on your religion (like two guys or gals getting hitched) then you don’t have to provide services. Bakers refusing to sell wedding cakes, wedding venues declining bookings are just a few examples where passionate opponents insist they shouldn’t be required to support something they oppose.

Serving the public means having to provide goods and services to everybody regardless of any condition. Imagine an atheist florist declining providing flowers for an Easter service because they don’t agree that Jesus rose from the dead. Or a white supremacist who won’t serve people of color. Society can’t function if the goal is for everybody and every business agrees with their customers.

Many non-U.S. countries in Europe and Latin America bifurcate the Government’s role in marriages and the Church’s role. Couples go to City Hall (or the equivalent), do the paperwork and registration and are then married in the eyes of the state for legal purposes, tax reasons, etc. Some then go out and party. Others hold a religious celebration. Others do something else entirely based on their own interests, beliefs and needs. The civil part of marriage is separated from the ceremonial part.

The very best thing the U.S. could do is emulate this model. Take the Church’s out of it. Priests, Rabbi’s, all religious leaders would not have the legal ability to marry people. They could only bless, sanction, celebrate the relationships however their faith traditional permits. Only the government could actually do the legal connection. Church’s that don’t support marriages between two loving people of the same gender wouldn’t have to bless those unions, but the couple would be equally married as any other.

Despite the progression of legislative victories for equality, they could always be rescinded, and the Church, however progressive in their new communications policies, is unlikely to alter underlying interpretations theology. Separating the legal function of marriage and the religious element would solve the problem. I look forward to one day going down the aisle, connecting with my betrothed legally. My faith and my Church will bless us. But first there's that ‘til death do us part bit…

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