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Of Marriages and Civil Unions

Posted by Anthony on November 18, 2008

By Anthony J. Aschettino

In the giddying days following the election of Barack Obama, a momentous occasion for a multitude of reasons, many in America could have been forgiven for losing sight of several ballot initiatives from across the country. Although one of the more radical ones was defeated (Colorado’s attempt to define life as beginning at the moment of fertilization), sadly another ridiculous one was passed. California’s “Proposition 8” effectively overrides that state’s Supreme Court decision legalizing gay marriage by amending the state constitution to read that “only marriage between a man and a woman is valid or recognized in California.”

Opposition to the initiative was as fierce as its support, with both sides spending some $73 million to sway the electorate one way or another. Proponents of the initiative couched their argument in protecting the sanctity of marriage; as such it is no surprise that many of the groups supporting the measure were churches or otherwise conservative and religiously affiliated.  Opponents quite naturally claimed that it was a discriminatory plank consistent with the conservative/ religious right’s constant efforts to contain or reverse any gains made by the queer community. Its passing, especially in a state like California which is considered rather progressive, was one of the few morsels of victory that conservative and religious groups could claim after the election.

The initiative is, of course, discriminatory in that it seeks to deny for one group of people the same rights enjoyed by another group on the sole basis that one group happens to be queer. Furthermore, it is very likely that this will not be the end of pushing by the religious conservatives to erode gay rights across the board; there are always measures being put forth to ban gay couples from adoption and to deny them the basic rights enabled via the granting of civil unions, not to mention the constant attempts to define homosexuality as a “lifestyle choice” or, more shamefully, as a “sickness” that can be “cured”. A victory on any front in this broad offensive simply encourages the religious right to see what else they can get away with.

The solution to this conundrum resides in taking “marriage” in the traditional sense from the purview of the state. The state, after all, cares not whether one is married before Jesus, Allah, Yahweh, Vishnu, or simply friends and family; to the state, so long as all legal requirements are fulfilled, a marriage is more or less simply a social contract. Thus in reality the state should concern itself only with granting a civil union, with equivalent rights to that which a marriage today contains, to consenting adults who meet some basic legal requirements such as a minimum age and having no other civil unions at the same time. After signing such a contract, the couple could then go and be “married” by anyone they wish: thus, a Catholic couple could go and be “married” in the Catholic Church and take on all of their religious rights/ obligations.

This solves two major problems: first, the problem of homosexual couples being denied the same rights as heterosexual couples, since under the civil unions all couples will have equal rights. Second, it would allow church leaders to maintain their traditional view of marriage regardless of how the state sees things. Nobody could (or should) force a Rabbi or Imam to recognize a marriage that goes against the core beliefs of their religion. At the same time, it is not fair to allow religious figures the ability to dictate the lifestyles of citizens who fall outside their worldview as defined by faith and doctrine.

It is indeed a sad commentary that in the twenty-first century equal rights in America remains, for the queer community, a goal yet to be achieved. Yet it is promising that each attempt to limit their rights is met with a growing opposition to religious conservatives meddling in the affairs of what amounts to personal status laws. It took many years to defeat the racist statutes in the American south that banned inter-racial marriage and enforced separate drinking fountains and seating areas, but at the end of the day the majority of Americans, both black, white, and everyone in between, came together to repudiate such laws. One can only hope that before too long both gay and straight Americans will band together to relegate such measures as “Proposition 8” to its well deserved place in the dustbin of history.


One Response to “Of Marriages and Civil Unions”

  1. […] By Anthony J. Aschettino […]

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