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Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Wedding Bell Blues

Another step forward for gay marriage?

So, from what I can make of it, the New Jersey Supreme Court has ruled that New Jersey doesn't have to allow homosexuals to get married, but if they don't then they need to set up an "appropriate statutory structure" (i.e. civil unions) that basically gives homosexual couples the exact same rights and privileges as heterosexual married couples. Didn't we already go through this once before as a country? I believe the catch phrase was "Separate but Equal", and we decided that it wasn't.

Theoretically, if civil unions and marriage are supposed to give the exact same rights and privileges as marriage, then we are merely dealing with semantics. So because some bigots don't want homosexuals to be "married", the state of New Jersey might go through the whole process of creating civil unions? Here is my suggestion for the upcoming New Jersey statute for civil unions:

Civil Unions: See all applicable marriage statutes, but replace any reference to "man and woman" with "two human beings".

Why do I have a feeling that it won't be so simple?

As I see it, there are two components to marriage: civil (legal) and religious. The civil aspect encompasses all the legal rights and responsibilites you acquire when you are legally married. These are real-world consequences that among other things allow two people to give each other responsibilities for their well-being that they wouldn't want anyone else to make for them. The religious aspect, on the other hand, is strictly between the couple and their god and is not even a requirement for marriage. Thus, because one (civil) applies to all marriage and the other (religion) is completely optional and has no real-world applications, it only makes sense that when we talk about marriage, we are really talking about "civil" marriage, the civil contract of marriage and all applicable laws, rights and responsibilites inherent in that contract.

So, if we already have the "appropriate statutory structure" in place defining a civil contract for two people who want to form a partnership that we call marriage, then why would we need to create a new "civil union" statute? Why doesn't the court recognize this and merely order the state to change existing marriage statutes to get rid of the heterosexual bias? Here is my guess: because the majority of people in this country (granted, they are slowly becoming the minority) still hold onto some form of anti-gay bigotry and a smaller, very vocal and influential minority are trying everything they can do to keep them narrow-minded.

Not all battles can be won in one fell swoop. I guess sometimes, as unfair as it may seem and as much as you might want immediate results, you must settle for a little less up front because your ultimate goal is unfortunately in the hands of a bigotted majority that is resistant to change ("Be grateful for what you can get because it could be worse"). Creating civil unions with the same benefits as marriage would undoubtedly be a great step forward in New Jersey. But ultimately, if the distinction between "marriage" and "civil unions" is endorsed by government, then that implies that there must be something different between the two concepts, and that my friends is discrimination. And since the difference between them is religious, then that is religious discrimination which even the New Jersey Supreme Court would surely not uphold.

It certainly seems that the New Jersey Supreme Court is sympathetic to the gay marriage cause. After all, they did say that the state either needs to allow gay marriage or create civil unions. They didn't rule out gay marriage, they just passed the buck to the legislature. And with all the current "activist judges" threats coming from the Religious Right (the very same vocal and influential minority who hate gays), they probably wanted to avoid the limelight. But at the same time, is it fair to leave discrimination to the whims of the voters?

Here is my theoretical solution: separate the "civil" from the "religious" in marriage.

As far as the government is concerned, when two people get married, they are entering into a civil contract. The religious aspect of marriage is of no concern to government. And if you remove religion from marriage you end up with a civil union (remember, the NJ Supreme Court has determined that the state should be able to create civil unions with the exact same benefits as marriage). So, from now on I propose that whenever two people want to get "married", what they will actually do is enter into a "civil union". This will also be retro-active, so all couples who are currently married will automatically be considered to be in civil unions.

On your tax forms, you won't file as married, you will file as a civil union. When you fill out the next census, your legal status won't be single or married but rather single or in a civil union. This is a purely legal status which reflects the fact that the only concerns government has about your relationship with another person are civil and thus two people enter into a civil contract we call a "civil union". This is the only step needed in order to have all of the benefits we currently associate with marriage. For people who are already married, they need to do nothing as nothing will change for them because civil unions are exactly the same as today's marriage. And of course, because all people are treated equally under the law, civil unions are open to both heterosexuals and homosexuals.

So if civil unions encompass the civil part of what we call marriage, then what about the religious aspect of marriage? That is the great thing about my plan, you can do whatever the hell you want concerning your religious beliefs about marriage because nobody, including government, cares except you and your god(s). If you want to have a church official marry you in a church, go right ahead. If you want to have a pagan ritual around a bonfire, go right ahead. If you prefer a satanic ritual, be my guest. If you want to get married in a mass ceremony with a thousand other Moonies, more power to you. Nobody else cares what you do for your religious beliefs and it is of no concern of government. Your marriage is entirely disassociated from the state. God no longer has to compete with goverment red-tape.

But remember, a religious ceremony in no way carries any legal recognition of a civil union. The only legal way to get the legal benefits that are currently associated with marriage is to enter into a civil union. Yes, you'll still have to fill out the necessary civil union applications just as you fill out marriage applications now. But guess what, the applications are exactly the same, so for the 50% of you who have filled them out before, it should be a piece of cake.

With my plan, everybody wins because everybody is treated exactly the same under the law and religion is freed from the tyranny of the state. And for those of you who can't handle equality, I suggest you find a country a little more to your liking. I hear Afghanistan is trying to rebuild.


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