This is an editorial and a notable detour from my usual urbanism-related articles.
It was only a few days ago that American President Barack Obama made another first by declaring his political support for gay marriage in the United States. As expected, this move that has split the American public on an issue that is already divisive. It seems that Americans who are not in support of gay marriage are either against the practice of homosexuality or against the idea of gays getting married like straight people (and in some cases, both).
In trying to understand the latter perspective, there are a few key elements at play that we should all consider. First, the constitutional separation between Church and State (often referred to in an idealistic, patriotic sense) is rarely practiced in everyday life — including when it comes to this thorny issue. Second, the focus of this debate is too often misdirected on gay marriage; instead, I suggest we take a step back and ask ourselves why we continually use a religious term (“marriage”) to refer to a legal institution in the first place (and then, stop doing it).
On the Separation Between Church and State
But the stakes are high on a practical level — to better understand why, take a look at this list of rights and responsibilities accorded to “married” couples in the United States. This list demonstrates that somehow, we need to figure out an equitable, respectful way to resolve this issue and protect couples’ rights, no matter whether it’s a same-sex or an opposite-sex couple. In the end, it is the rights that people want — whatever the situation or practice may be called. We should all be able to have the same status, and we should all be accorded the same rights.
So I advocate that we scrap the term “marriage” from the legal process altogether. Let’s call it civil unions. Gay, straight, atheist, Christian, Muslim, Jewish, whatever, when it comes to the legal practice and the corresponding rights, we can refer to everything as civil unions.* No more of this “marriage” business. We should once and for all really separate the Church and State, like we’ve been saying since 1776. We can all get civil unions, and and we will leave marriage for the stuff that they do in the churches as their sacraments and sacred rites.**
The point is to restore this legal institution to what it’s meant to be – the legal recognition of the joining of two consenting adults to share their wealth and assets, to have a say in health emergencies and other legal instances. Because two people who want to be together (till death do they part) deserve that right — and they’ll probably need it, too.
*This is actually kind of tricky, I realize — as it’s states that determine marriage law, not a singular entity like federal law.
**What’s not helpful is according heterosexual couples marriages and same-sex couples civil unions or other-terms partnerships as a weak attempt to provide equality. That’s tantamount to the “separate but equal” laws back in the 1950s United States. It’s 2012, not 1952.
So what do you think? Do we need a new start and a new perspective on the gay marriage issue? Am I being way to simplistic in bringing it down to semantics? How can we move forward?