06 November 2009

The Evolution of Marriage

I'm sick of hearing the argument that same-sex couples shouldn't seek full marriage rights and should be satisfied with civil unions since marriage is a religious concept. It's not. Marriage is a social arrangement which has evolved throughout history, just as societies as a whole have evolved, and we need to recognize that.

Marriage can receive legal sanction, religious sanction, both or neither. Here in the United States, I think most couples receive both, a large number receive only legal, but very few receive neither or only religious. I'm not aware of any mainstream religious group here whose members don't regularly obtain legal marriage licenses in addition to holding their religious ceremonies. Adherents of most faiths are explicitly required to present the license to the officiant in order for the ceremony to proceed! If religious leaders who claim that marriage is a purely religious concept were honest, they would insist their members refuse to obtain marriage licenses from the government. In reality, they recognize the numerous benefits of legal marriage for their members, but they have no difficulty simultaneously seeking to deny those benefits to others. It's hypocrisy, pure and simple.

Of course, same-sex couples have been seeking, and have obtained within some groups, the opportunity to hold a religious wedding ceremony, but that's not what the same-sex marriage debate in this country is about. It's only about the legal sanction which carries with it a large number of legal rights. But since same-sex marriages are indeed being performed by legally recognized religious groups, and if religion can make marriage valid, then to deny the couples married in those groups a legal marriage license would be a violation of religious liberty. I suppose critics would say those other faiths and their weddings are invalid, but this just makes their bigotry clearer.

Sometimes I hear a proposal to legally convert all marriages to civil unions and let people have whatever religious ceremony they want afterward. But that's just playing with words, and it would cause more harm than good. It would be as if the Fourteenth Amendment had made everyone “legal residents” because some people had religious objections to applying the term “citizen” to former slaves. Such a drastic change would also certainly increase the volume of complaints from people that their marriage had been destroyed. We've had civil marriage for a long time, and abandoning it now would not be productive.

When my wife and I got married almost a year ago, it was an very simple ceremony at the courthouse without any mention of the supernatural. Our commitment to love one another was certainly the most important aspect, but the legal recognition was necessary for immigration purposes. I'm thankful that religious conservatives have at least left us opposite-sex atheist couples alone, but I'm willing to fight against them on the behalf of others when I can.

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2 comments:

BlackSun said...

Good point about religions requiring civil certification. That shuts down the entire argument about marriage being a religious institution.

BTW, I also married a non-US-citizen. I hope your visa journey was short and trouble-free. Mine is still underway nearly 7 months after our wedding.

Secular Planet said...

She was here on a student visa, so the next step for her was the green card. We applied two months after the wedding – it took a while to get the paperwork together – and she received the card about three months later! Now we just have to apply for one without the marriage restriction after two years.

Good luck on getting everything worked out!