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October 7, 2003
Gay marriage: What's the problem?

Here's where I part company with the Right, and my annoying libertarian streak comes out.

AndrewSullivan covers this topic in great detail, as he should; he's got a much larger stake in this than I do. (Full disclosure: I'm hetero, married, Catholic, pro-life, anti-death penalty.) He covers a USA Today poll showing the public is evenly split over this topic.

And here's my take on this. Marriage, in my faith, is considered a sacrament between a man and a woman which exists for the glory of God and the perpetuation of God's primary creation, etc etc etc. That is my faith, and I subscribe to that view. However, the Church is perfectly free to set those rules for itself and its members, and it's perfectly free to tell members who don't comply to take a hike. Most Christian denominations view marriage in a similar, but not exact, way.

Civil marriages are a completely different matter. Whether the Church, or most churches recognize them is not germane to their legality. Civil procedures do not confer "sacramental" status onto marriages. A civil marriage (especially over the past five decades) is a contractual arrangement between two people for the combination of estates, tax status, and parental rights of children, where applicable. These civil contracts can be broken at will by one party on its own with little legal recourse available to the other party. Once the contract is broken, the civil courts determine the resolution of community property, parental rights, etc.

Up to now, the law has not allowed gay couples to take advantage of the mechanism of civil marriage, and this has reflected the popular will of the people up to this time. This is within the purview of a democratic society, although hardly a noble instinct. Instead, our society has offered the "civil union": a contractual arrangement between two people for the combination of estates, tax status, and parental rights of children, where applicable. It's Marriage Lite, and it has required the passage of laws, eaten up resources of public discourse and legislative effort, and all to exactly duplicate what civil marriage already is. It's a laughably hypocritical way for people to avoid thinking about sexual acts that they find distasteful. What's more, the withholding of the civil marriage mechanism has made radicals out of gay people, who may have otherwise been politically mainstream.

To those who claim that gay marriage would devalue straight marriage, either out of a fear of gay promiscuity or a distaste of fringe, flamboyant elements, I would ask them whether they felt that marriage was similarly devalued by Drew Barrymore, Angelina Jolie, Elizabeth Taylor, Mickey Rooney, or a host of "everyday" hetero people who treat marriage as a revolving door, or swap spouses, or engage in sexual acts in St. Patrick's Cathedral. The answer is that there are outrageous heteros as well as outrageous gays. It doesn't mean that we should ban Drew from getting married again, or keep heteros from civil unions. (I don't mean to pick on poor Drew -- I think she's great!)

We shouldn't pretend that civil marriage confers some religious meaning; it hasn't, not for a long time. Churches should not be required to recognize gay marriages if they choose not to. But civil authorities ought to quit playing hypocritical word games and make our laws applicable to all our people -- and quit treating gays as second-class citizens.

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Posted by Ed Morrissey at October 7, 2003 12:22 PM

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