I have a solution to the problems surrounding the ‘gay marriage’ issue. We acknowledge that ‘Marriage’ is a word steeped in cultural heritage and history – from a variety of sources (ie: no one culture has a monopoly on what marriage means). We then realise that this debate about whether gays can marry or not, is a political/legal debate. We then decide how we want to resolve these two Separate issues – the cultural side of things, and the legal side of things – in the most reasonable, considerate, fair way that we can.
Marriage is a Cultural/Social Phenomenon
You see, you don’t need the law in order to be married. I mean, not really – because if you are religious enough, then marriage only means something ‘in the eyes of God’. So who cares whether the state acknowledges your union or not? As long as you have a priest, and your family and friends present and you make a solemn promise to God, then you are married – right?
Similarly, what does ‘Marriage’ look like to someone who isn’t so religious, or better still, atheist? I think it looks more like a large party where you make a solemn promise to your friends and family that this relationship is very serious and will last a lountil you die (or not, as the case most likely will be). From the non-religious perspective, marriage is all about the social impact of it. The statement made by being wed, by wearing the rings, by referring to your partner as ‘husband’ or ‘wife’. It has nothing to do with God, but is equally powerful.
And in both of these cases – you do NOT need a legally binding document for it to be true. You can have your ‘wedding’, invite extended friends and family over for a party, say your ‘vows’, wear your rings and refer to your partner as ‘husband/wife and for all intents and purposes, you will be ‘Married’.
So what does the legal document have to do with anything? I think that that part is becoming less relevent these days. ‘De Facto’ has had a big impact on the importance of being legally married, but even so being legally married does seem to streamline some legal issues for partners. More than anything, I think just signing the legal documents is just accepted as part of the wedding ceremony these days without thought. It is just what is done. But this is neither here nor there. People, when they get married, typically engage in the legally binding element of it as part of the course…except homosexuals. Because they aren’t worthy.
So why do they not get this one element? The state recognises that they are real couples – you can be defacto as a gay couple… So why not ‘married’ as a gay couple? What is the real difference?
The Religious Right Fights It
The religious right fights the idea of gay marriage bitterly, proclaiming marriage to be sacred and all that. But they are missing the point – they are trying to defend a cultural view of marriage from a legal aspect of marriage. As a matter of fact, the problem here seems to be that everyone wants to use the same word… The religious right of the USA and Australia (primarily christians) want to protect their view of what the word “Marriage” means to them, and since our legal system talks about “Marriage”, they seem to think they are talking about the same thing… but they aren’t.
People have been getting legally “Married” for a long time now without any mention of God in their ceremony – so the religious right have already lost their fight to save ‘the true meaning of marriage’ (as they see it) from the political system. It is over. Let go. So why the fascination with keeping gays out of the ‘marriage’ definition?
Here is the solution
The political system needs to change its language to reflect what role it plays. Signing that legal document does not make you ‘married’ – it does however make you legally bound as a couple. So, why not call the legal state a ‘Civil Union’.
Everyone, on their WEDDING day, signs a contract to enter into a CIVIL UNION as just one of the elements of the MARRIAGE.
The idea of making gays have a civil union, while everyone else gets married is just a form of segregation. But by accepting the fact that the legally binding document is no more a part of the wedding than the wedding cake is, we can have everyone treated equally, while simultaneously maintaining cultural heritage and pride.
ie: Under this new system, Christians can comfortably refer to christian couples in a civil union as ‘Married’ (because it was done correctly in the eys of God), while describing gay couples who are in a civil union as ‘unwed’ – because it isn’t a correct marriage (according to their beliefs) in the eyes of God.
Meanwhile, the gay couple will more than happily refer to themselves as ‘Married’, because they did everything that matters to them, with respects to ‘getting married’.
Civil Union is the legal state of being. Marriage is the cultural and social term individuals may or may not choose to use. No one will ever need to use that incredibly awkward phrase “Are you two getting civilly unionised?”