Our uncivil union

            I don’t believe in God, which I know probably makes a good number of you worry for my eternal soul.  Yet, for reasons never quite clear to me, a significant portion of my friends, online and off, are practicing Christians.  We disagree about something pretty enormous, but we somehow manage to like one another.  I suspect this is because we have two things in common: we acknowledge we don’t know everything and we are respectful of other people’s voices.

            That explains why we were able to have a productive discussion around here on Monday.  A discussion in which people, you know, listened to others with differing points of view.

            Religion is about truth.  A person who is committed to a particular sect must believe that her faith is the vessel of truth.  American civic life, however, is composed of truths in the plural.  It must encompass every belief set, giving space for a multitude of viewpoints.  This is why church and state work better kept far away from one another, because the state needs to leave room for many churches, not to mention us heathens.

            There is one glaring area in which church and state are hopelessly intertwined.  One area where my rabbi can execute a binding legal contract.  One area where it is impossible to separate the legal and the religious definition of the word.  The M-word.

            So, maybe it is time for the state to get out of the marriage business.  Instead of legally marrying people, maybe the government just needs to only offer civil unions to all couples.  If people want a religiously-defined marriage in addition, go for it.  But leave it to the religions to define their truths about marriage, while the legal contract is kept completely separate.

            That would lead to a much more civil union.

35 responses to “Our uncivil union

  1. I can’t tell you how much I agree with you.

  2. Very nicely and simply articulated- “American civic life, however, is composed of truths in the plural. It must encompass every belief set, giving space for a multitude of viewpoints”- therein lies the challenge of law. I applaud your willingness to consider multiple points of view! Blessings.

  3. I don’t if I had ever really thought about this before. There is not as much separation between church and state in all aspects of government, as we would like to think. Maybe because so many peoples’ opinions are formed based on their religious (or non religious) beliefs. And it is sooo difficult for people to separate their beliefs from their concern for others as people and as individuals.

  4. Emily. My goodness. What a glaringly obvious and yet novel concept. Surely I’ve heard this suggested before but in all honesty I can’t think that I ever have!

    The State should get out of the marriage business, and leave that to the many different ideologies and churches.


    I hear all of the civil discourse about “protecting” marriage, but as I pondered it carefully and deeply, it all boiled down to discrimination, legalizing discrimination based on religious beliefs. people can sugarcoat it and rationalize it, but that’s what it is. It’s why I so oppose and was so upset by Prop 8. I expected greater from CA. It expelled all the wind from my hope sails.

    But, your solution solves all of that.

  5. That sounds so completely logical and I completely agree. 🙂

  6. Bloody obvious when you look at it that way – well said.

  7. Well said. It would simplify things for everyone I suppose.

    Maybe sometime you could post about why you still identify as Jewish and go to Temple when you don’t believe in God. I’d be interested in understanding that.

  8. re: Amy, I think it’s b/c being Jewish isn’t just a religion, it’s also an ethnicity. And so many Jews I know, who don’t believe in God like Emily, still very much cling to their ancestry, their traditions and the like. My take on it, I’ll let Emily explain for herself though 🙂

    and yes, Em, I totally agree with you about this. For me personally, marriage doesn’t mean that much. Which is why I’m not married. It has too much connection to religion for me, amongst other things. I think civil unions for everyone is a great idea. Leave marriage up to the churches. My step-father has been talking about this recently. He was hoping that the outcome of Prop 8 going before the Supreme Court could go one of two ways: 1) it’d be overturned or 2) the state would stop issuing marriage licenses for everyone, gay or straight.

  9. Excellent post, Emily.

    You know, I understand why some Christians and other persons who identify with a certain set of beliefs feel they “have” to vote or put items to vote such as Prop 8, but I disagree, each and every time, that it is the right thing to do.

    When we strip others of civil rights in the name of a deity, any deity, it is not doing what is right. It is doing what our own religion says is “right”, and mostly, that interpretation is subjective, IMO.

    Sadly, I fear that we will struggle forever with the idea that the law should be removed from the realm of religion in this country.

  10. My sister and I just had this conversation the other day.

    I couldn’t agree more.

  11. What an interesting point of view. But I don’t know that it would work. Think of all the people that get married in the church, whichever church that may be, but have no religious affiliation whatsoever. They want the fairy-tail dream wedding (whatever that is!), and civil unions just wouldn’t deliver in that aspect. Civil unions would deny the tradition of marriage to those who hold the values of marriage to be true (fidelity, trust, etc.). And then there would be the whole aspect of churches denying weddings based on, well, whatever they wanted to base it on. It just seems like it would open a whole new door of discrimination. I know many people who are both religious and gay, and they should be allowed the same privilidges of marriage that non-gay religious people have. I don’t know – I can see how “giving” the church marriage, and letting government handle only civil unions would solve some deep seeded issues, but I just don’t think it would solve everything.

  12. Emily– great post. I was talking with my friend in California yesterday about Prop 8. And her church pastor has reached a similar conclusion. The pastor will perform religious-only marriage ceremonies for all couples–straight and gay– but will not issue any marriage licenses. He didn’t want his church to be involved in the discrimination against couples.

  13. I am in total agreement

  14. I like the idea religious marriage without any state involvement. I don’t believe anyone should have civil benefits that are any different, married or not. Everyone should have the same benefits and the same responsibilities.


  15. I agree. And thank you for your comment on my post yesterday.

    I am not religious. My extended family is, but my parents were raised in two different religions and one of them is an athiest. Needless to say, religion is not my cup of tea…which made it hard to ask what I did.

    Anyway, the best I’ve heard on keeping religion and the sanctity of marriage out of the discussion in gay marriage is the Keith Olbermann video on YouTube. He nailed it. I only wish the whole would will see it and understand. Have you seen it?

  16. Oooh, I so like this idea … civil unions only for all. Perfect.

    PS – I owe you an email and I’m promising to send it soon! 🙂

  17. Liz,
    I understand your concerns, but I want to point out that churches can and do – and are permitted to – discriminate. The government should not, but does – and Prop 8 attempts to legitimize – discriminate in applying rights to its citizens.

  18. I agree 100%. It would be great if cooler heads could prevail and accept a solution where marriage is reserved for religious constructs and some other term, such as civil union is used for the legal ones.

    However, many are stuck on the M-word.
    There are those on one side that won’t rest until the legal thing is called a ‘marriage’. There are those on the other side that won’t settle for calling homosexual unions a ‘marriage’ because it can lead to confusion.

    No matter what it is very refreshing to find civil discussions on this topic popping up more frequently. It is much more productive than hate and anger.

  19. First of all, I think you have so many Christian friends because you have compassion in common with the Christian faith.

    Second, your idea makes a lot of sense to me.

  20. What you propose — having separate civil (i.e. legal) and religious events is actually quite common in other countries. In Latin America for instance, many governments require that people obtain a legal contract (often on Friday) and then have a religious ceremony (often on saturday). Having separate ceremonies would certainly allow the state to recognize same sex civil unions while individual faiths could perform marriage ceremonies however they saw fit. How is it that we could be so far behind in the separation of church and state?

  21. I have no problem with this idea. In my discussions on this topic, part of what I felt has been missing is some sort of overarching conversation of marriage and what it means in today’s society, what do we want it to mean, and how do we approach it. I think the topic of the separation of church and state is an important facet, too. I had not really considered it from that angle.

    (I keep typing more and then deleting it because I think there are so much more that could be discussed, institutionally, historically, socially. I’m all about sociocultural context these days.)

    Specifically to Liz, I would say that this approach would not prevent anyone from getting married in a church. There are churches who will perform same sex ceremonies. It would just be a matter of finding one and I’m sure they would make it very clear that they are willing to do so. What this option allows, is for the state not to sanction the religious aspect of marriage but to honor and validate the social and legal aspects of it.

    I know there would still be plenty of people uncomfortable with the idea–for several possible reasons, but personally, I think it is a good response to the issue. At the very least, it says let’s talk about this–together.

  22. I’ve seen this proposed before and I completely agree. In discussion with my (very, very conservative Christian) mother she was finally willing to admit that, once her personal moral opinions were removed, the only real issue she had was the word “marriage.” I had to point out that her own religion had practiced something very different from “one man, one woman” for decades and that many cultures today have quite different definitions including both polygamy and polyandry. Further, we use the word when we talk about mergers and other things so, is marriage really a sacred word, a specifically defined concept set apart by God? How do we justify excluding, say people in Nepal or Tibet who consider their unions as valuable as ours although they include multiple men? Or the 20% of modern societies who practice polygyny?

    Perhaps we could all agree on a simpler word – union? And maybe that word will help us all come together again.

  23. I love the idea. Had it been the case 10 years ago I could have skirted around the I don’t want to get married in the church and my husband can’t anyway because he got divorced but not annulled. The “rules” some churches come up with really are laughable. We are sinners for living in sin and even worse sinners for not caring. I’s take a union any day.

  24. Uh, obviously I’d not I’s. ooh.

  25. I totally agree! A friend of mine and I were talking about this a few years ago – why not let religions decide who/how they want to participate in their sacrament of marriage, and have something different for the state? It makes sense!

  26. I have actually been thinking that for a while now. It seems it would simplify alot of things. I do think that there are enough churches of varying beliefs that most couples would be able to find a religious ceremony to fit their needs and desires….so chalk me up to one more Christian who agrees with you…

  27. That, my friend, is complete brilliance.

  28. That is a fabulous idea – why has it not occurred already? It was important for me to be married in a church, and I think everybody should have the opportunity to marry if they would like – why not allow civil unions for all, and let the churches sort out the rest? Brilliant.

  29. i’m all for separating the two, so that the legal ceremony and the religious one are distinct…but i think we’d still be left grappling over who “owns” the term marriage and what marriages are legitimate in the eyes of whomever if we did that.

    i don’t see the significant portion of society who got married by a JP sometime in the past 50 years suddenly leaping on board the new definition and calling themselves, uh, unionized…or what?…instead of married, especially when technically, in the separation, they’d be the ones with claim to the term, as they’re the “legally married” ones, most formally. and yet those with the greatest objections to calling gay unions marriage are largely religious, so i assume they don’t want to give up the term for themselves?

    here in Canada, while many had the same objections and ideas five years ago, we’re actually doing okay with our plural and fully inclusive incarnation of marriage for all.

  30. that was VERY well said.

  31. Yes, Emily. This is spot on, and such a good solution. I’m not sure why it hasn’t been done yet but I’m betting this is coming in the future.

  32. that is EXACTLY what my husband, the Lutheran pastor, thinks should happen. That way individual churches could define marriage as they wish, but for tax, insurance, etc reasons we would be all joined in UNION by the government! (and some churches would marry same sex couples, and some wouldn’t, AND THAT WOULD BE OK. No one would be forced to do something they didn’t want to do… not that they are forced to now. No church has to marry any couple that comes to them, straight or otherwise)

  33. I agree with you there! Individual religions have every right to decide who they will allow to be married in their church… even if the rest of us don’t agree with those decisions. But any two adults should be able to get married and consider themselves a family.