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By a margin of 500,000 votes, the state of California's voters amended their state constitution last week to take away marriage rights for gays and lesbians. The California Supreme Court, by a 4-3 vote, had ruled in May 2008 that any statute that limited marriage to a relationship between a man and a woman violated the equal protection clause of California's Constitution.
Those opposed to gay marriage then set out to amend California's Constitution with Proposition 8 restricting marriage to a union between a man and a woman. By a 52.3%-47.7% margin, gay marriage opponents were successful. In so doing, California voters targeted a specific demographic group in the state to be outside of the parameters of equal protection under law.
That, in itself, is remarkable.
For the sake of discussion, and realizing that this is a very controversial topic....I would like to set forward some ideas and suggestions on how this argument can be settled.
The problem is not with gays seeking equal status with straights, something that should be a given. The problem is the existing blurred lines concerning marriage, itself.
Most marriages are done the way I used to do them in the early 80's. A couple, seeking marriage, would obtain a marriage license from their county. A verification document would be given to the person conducting the marriage ceremony. I would sign that document and submit it to Columbus for the permanent record. Unless that document was signed and sent in, the marriage agreement was not complete.
In other words, ministers, priests, pastors and Reverends, are acting as agents of the State. Acknowledged, licensed religious clergy are indispensable agents of the State when it comes to marriage. Yes, a couple may elect to be "married" by a judge, a constable, or justice of the peace....but primarily, marriages are conducted by clergy.
Why is this the case?
The U.S. Constitution, in the 1st amendment, prohibits government from making a law respecting an establishment of religion. When clergy play such an integral part of marriage, acting as the primary agents of the State in validating marriages.....isn't the State violating that 1st amendment? Hasn't the State structured it's legal system of marriage through a law establishing religion, or, at the very least, religious clergy?
Now I recognize that all manner of clergy are licensed by the State......not one specific group or denomination is given pastoral marriage validation rights. However, why should any religious cleric need to play an indispensable role in conjunction with the State? Isn't that blurring the lines between the power of the church and the power of the State?
I would suggest that the first issue in the debate about gay marriage rights that needs examined and possibly reformed is the role of religious clergy in the marriage contract. All that marriage is....is a legal contract. Naturally, to cover my backside, I admit that marriage is much more than just that....but when it comes to the interest of the State....it is only a legal contract.
So here's my recommendation....for the sake of getting the discussion started....
Couples (for now), wanting to enter into the civil contract of marriage, should be able to accomplish that entirely through governmental channels. It matters not to me what that contract is called. Domestic partnerships, civil unions...whatever. Couples should be able to apply for this contract and complete that contract at a courthouse or similar governmental department. The State's interest in this contract should never rely on religious clergy validation....as if it were a faith-based initiative.
Those couples who desire a clerical or religious "marriage" are free to do so AFTER they have completed the required legalities of the State.
One of the reasons why we find ourselves in contention over such things as marriage is because government has extended privileges to religion that religion should not have. I'm not saying that Americans shouldn't have a free right to practice their religious beliefs....not at all....that is guaranteed by the Constitution. At the same time, religion should never be equal to or depended on by the State to validate legal and binding contracts.
What should happen is that marriage validation rights should be taken AWAY from religious institutions and religious leaders, altogether. A civil union or domestic partnership contract is all that should be necessary for a couple to qualify for any and all benefits previously reserved for only hetero-married couples. Marriage ceremonies will not be affected by this in the slightest....and the State will still have it's interests covered.