The advocates for gay marriage have long made it about discrimination. Gay couples should not be treated as second-class citizens. They deserve the same rights as those entering into traditional heterosexual partnerships. Important issues have been at stake such as inheritance, hospital care and visiting rights and insurance claims, among many others. More recently, as government agencies and many private companies have extended most of the same rights to gay couples as are enjoyed by heterosexual couples, the battle is more about general acceptance of homosexual partnerships and the possession of a marriage certificate. In other words, at one time the advocacy was for legal recognition of some kind of civil partnership; the push now is for full marriage equality.
The fact is that we are unlikely to get a majority of people to agree on this issue. We will spend countless elections and ballot initiatives, and millions and millions of dollars, arguing the same thing over and over. Can we find a way to get past it, perhaps spend all that money and energy on other important matters?
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The solution is easy: just get the government out of the marriage business. That’s right. Everyone who wishes to enter a contractual partnership can register in whatever manner the government requires. This is already in place at many levels of state and the federal legislation. It is called domestic partners legislation. If you don’t like that title, change it. Only don’t use the word marriage. Leave that venerable term to the religious bodies. Problem solved.
Marriage as a word and as institution has a history inextricably linked to religious beliefs and convictions. Those who advocate gay marriage are, I believe, at some level seeking not only the sanction but the sanctity of the state’s moral authority for their partnerships. Those who argue for traditional marriage are, I believe, seeking much the same but with a different outcome. But the state has no business and no authority to confer sanctity on relationships, heterosexual or homosexual. The state simply acknowledges contractual relationships — the terms for entering into them and the terms for getting out of them. (The in and out possibilities already indicate that what the state means by marriage is not what many religions mean by marriage.) On most accounts, this is not what either side of the Gay Marriage Initiative understands marriage to be. Truth be said, the state never was in the marriage business.
This solution will not satisfy those on the extremes. What will they do with themselves if it goes away? No more robo-calling for dollars, no more protesting in the streets, no more screaming to their members about unfairness and discrimination, immorality or irreligion. No more politicians pandering to those who dominate their districts. No barrage of commercials every election season either. Put the issue to bed once and for all.