Wednesday, February 8, 2012



The lead story on many news outlets yesterday was news that the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals struck down California’s Proposition 8, which banned gay marriages in the nation’s largest state. The Ninth Circuit’s decision thus set the stage for the Supreme Court to rule on the legality of gay marriage, or at least on the right of states to ban gay marriage, perhaps as early as next year.

Why this story should have been the lead story anywhere, on a day when Syria was almost literally on fire, Americans were effectively being held hostage in Egypt, the Congress continued to wrangle over the payroll tax break, which directly affects every American who works and which will expire in three weeks, and the Catholic Church and the Obama administration were duking it out over a mandate for contraceptives, is beyond me. Gay marriage is a very important issue for gays, and especially for gays who would like to marry, and for those who consider gay marriage an abomination before God and man. Both groups feel very passionately about this issue, and understandably so. But, for most of us, this is not a non-issue but not a burning issue, either. While all of us care, or at least should care, about the rights of others and all of us have moral and/or religious sensitivities and sensibilities, most of us are not gay and don’t really care all that much about the sexual orientations of other people. Whom people choose to sleep with is none of our business and we prefer to keep it that way…please. So why the brouhaha over this story? One supposes the media think anything even remotely connected with sex (and it’s hard to imagine many things more remotely connected with sex) sells. And, in our increasingly strange and superficial society, they may be right. But I digress.

Gay marriage has been an issue for a number of years. Back in November, 2006 (and the issue was not new then), I sent a letter to Steve Chapman, who writes for the Chicago Tribune, is one of my favorite columnists, and shares my libertarian tendencies. In it, I proposed a solution to this controversy. Here is a reproduction of that missive:


Hi Steve,

I enjoyed your observations on gay marriage in your 11/5 column and have a hard time disagreeing with any of your arguments. However, I have another take on the gay marriage issue.

Why should the government be involved in the institution of marriage? Shouldn’t marriage, which many, if not most, Americans consider a sacrament, be the exclusive province of churches, leaving civil unions and the legal rights that would attend thereto, to the government? The government would then decide legal rights and obligations and the churches would decide sacramental rights and obligations. Why should the government have the right to decide who conforms to religious rules and parameters? Why should churches decide who conforms to legal rules and parameters? Those who belong to a religion and wish to proclaim their fidelity before their church could opt for both civil unions and marriages. Those gays and heterosexuals who have no religion, and who don’t care to abide by the current hypocrisy exhibited by many who are completely unfamiliar with the interior of a house of worship but go through a church marriage strictly for appearance’s sake, could opt only for civil unions.

With the government’s having lost its role in dabbling with religious definitions, at least in this application, gays who wish to have all the legal rights currently reserved for married people in most jurisdictions would encounter less, albeit still considerable, opposition to achieving those rights. Those gays who wish to marry, in addition to being granted civil unions, would surely be able to find a church who will marry them, and it will be strictly their business and the business of that church and its congregants.

More importantly, however, the government will have been removed from an area in which it should never have had any business: deciding who is married before God and the church.

Mark Quinn

To clarify this proposal, under such a system, everyone who wishes to enjoy the legal rights and privileges that now attach to marriage would apply for a civil union, which would confer such rights and privileges. Those who, in addition to obtaining a civil union, wish to marry inside their church, synagogue, mosque, temple, etc., would get married according to the rules and guidelines of that institution. The marriage would confer no legal rights and the civil union would not have to conform to any religious rites.

I suppose, by the way, that one could have a religious marriage without a civil union if one wished to proclaim his or her marriage before God but cared nothing for the legal rights of a spouse, but one suspects that such circumstances would be rare. Who knows, though?

The solution I proposed in 2006 has withstood the test of time on at least three fronts. First, it preserves the sacramental nature of the institution of marriage and a faith’s right to determine who is, and can be, married before God. Second, it respects and furthers the rights of gay people to access all of the legal and familial rights that society formerly, and, in many cases, still, reserves for heterosexuals. Third, it keeps government out of the business of telling faiths on whom they must confer the rites of matrimony (Think it can’t happen? See today’s other post, “IT’S THE BISHOP!”) and faiths out of the business of telling government on whom they must confer legal rights.

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