The problem with our debate about same-sex marriage is in many ways language. The term “marriage” is a religious one. All the dictates as to what a marriage is and who gets to be in a marriage (and how many) are bible-based. We have a religious idea that’s sanctioned by the state in the form of regulations (sorry first cousins in 23 states and siblings in all of them), tax breaks and legal privileges. Then this state-sanction union is acknowledged by private industries such as your health insurance provider.
Gay marriage is not the first time religion and the law have been at odds in the solemnization of matrimony. Utah was not allowed to become a state until they stopped practicing plural marriage. Yes, for all you purists out there, the federal gubmint told the Mormons marriage was between one man and one woman and dangled statehood over their heads. Mormons (for the most part) complied.
What about secularists? What about people who don’t belong to any religion and yet want to be married? What about women who want to be wives but think being submissive to their husbands is as antiquated as Aramaic? Why is their marriage stuck using a religious term with all of its baggage? Why does a couple married by Thai Elvis in a drive-thru ceremony have the same word for their union as two people married in a Roman Catholic church? Marriage vows – the “til death do we part” ones – are wholly optional. If my agreement with my spouse is totally different than a Muslim or a Christian couple’s agreement—we don’t have a different expression for that?
We don’t. The term civil union has been seen as a second-class marriage—a consolation prize to same sex couples. And if you boil down the gay marriage debate and disregard those blinded by irrational hatred of those different (or sometimes too much alike) from themselves—it comes down to the word “marriage” and it meaning something sacred (read: religious).
So what to do about this? If it’s part of your religion to discriminate against other people’s civil rights then how to we resolve this?
Oklahoma lawmaker Mike Turner has floated the idea his state should no longer marry anyone. That’s right. In order to thwart the federal decree that states can’t discriminate against gay couples Oklahoma’s conservative caucus has come up with the idea to just not have any marriages.
“[My constituents are] willing to have that discussion about whether marriage needs to be regulated by the state at all,” Turner told News9.com.
I reached out to Turner to ask some follow up questions. Mostly: “Really?” and “Seriously?” His aide said he was no longer talking about this topic. But I think it’s a great idea. It’s the same idea 1960’s business owners in Tennessee had as a way to thwart desegregating lunch counters: Serve no one.
How’d that work out?
Marriage equality is inevitable. But even when all Americans have the freedom to marry whomever they choose, we’ll still be limited by language.
Straight religious (and yes even die-hard conservative) Oklahomans are going to want their religious ceremony known as marriage. Let them have it. Get the state out of regulating “marriage.” Make all current and future wedded alliances into civil unions.
Let religious people have “marriage.” Let them explain away the slavery overtones in the bible and justify why harems are not “traditional.” Let them keep their church sanctioned unions. It’s part of religious liberty to be able to be prejudiced. It’s the secular state which doesn’t have that luxury. The state should get out of the marriage business and sign off on all civil unions regardless of gender, race, creed, religion, nationality or reproductive ability.
The state should end all “marriage.” Let the church have the word and let everyone else have the right.
Taking Eternal Vigilance Too Far