11 February 2004
Many levels of license
Religious conservatives, says Adam J. Bernay, are missing one obvious point in the gay-marriage debate:
[T]heir insistence on the State's regulating moral and religious issues has done nothing more than debase the Sacred and has turned religious sacraments and morals into political footballs. There are lots of issues where this has become a problem: ordination, burials, freedom of speech from the pulpit, and many more…but none has become a thornier problem than marriage.
Religious conservatives are missing the obvious answer to this issue: return the "regulation" and "licensing" of marriage to the private sector, and the recognition of such to the people. This will take this issue out of the hands of those who want to use it to force religious conservatives to accept their "life partnerships" as equivalent to marriages under our religions.
Well, okay, if you say so. How is this power to be wrested from the State? Is there popular support for a referendum on the matter? Do religious non-conservatives or the non-religious have their own interests, their own reasons to want to preserve the status quo?
So simple, this solution, that it automatically sets off the Huh? detector in the back of my head.
Marriage is, or ought to be, something other than, in Dawn Eden's phrase, "governmental sanction of sexual practices." Does the answer lie in taking the government out of the equation altogether? I'm still pondering this one.
If nothing else, this debate should silence, at least for a while, that old saw about how you "can't legislate morality." Actually, it's one of the few things you can legislate you don't hear anyone saying you can't legislate thermodynamics.
Posted at 8:25 PM to Immaterial Witness
Bernay's essay really isn't all that coherent in the first place -- it makes the all-too-common mistake, as early as the third paragraph (What amazes me is that the very people who would rise up in revolt at the very notion that the sacrament of Communion would be regulated demand that the sacrament of Marriage be regulated.), of assuming that allowing gay people to marry would equal forcing his Church to perform the marriages.
He even repeats the mistake, and trips over his own feet in the process, in the penultimate paragraph: Additionally, it will allow religious conservatives who disagree with the traditional Christian definition of marriage as "One Man, One Woman" . . . to practice their religious beliefs.
They, and you, can both do that now, Adam. Massachusetts allowing gay people to marry does not require your Church, whatever it is (let me guess) to perform marriages for them, sanctify them, or approve of them publicly, any more than current law requires Catholics to recognize remarriages by couples granted civil divorces, or requires Klan members to approve of interracial marriages.
Gay people will be allowed to do what nonreligious straight people have done since time immemorial -- go down to see an appropriately empowered civil official and be married. Despite their fervent wish for it to be so, the religious don't own marriage as a concept.
To throw out civil marriage as we know it and replace it with a flexible contractual arrangement invites all kinds of problems as to how that contract is recognized. What happens when you try to file a joint tax return? Or qualify for a deceased spouse's pension, or even something as picayune as picking up a child from school? I envision having to carry that contract around, and then wait to see if it fits the definition of a marriage contract as somebody else sees it. What a nightmare.
I think unless we dispense with the 1,000+ priviliges/responsibilities of marriage, the privitazation option is unworkable, and getting rid of those priviliges is just about unthinkable.
Bernay writes: return the "regulation" and "licensing" of marriage to the private sector