I think this whole gay marriage issue is being handled all wrong. The problem is that the state recognizes marriages at all. It shouldn't. Marriage is a religious institution. The state's interest in marriage is only in the handling of property and ownership of property by one or more persons. I don't know that it is possible but I believe that government should simply look at all current marriages as "civil unions". That is, as financial relationships or partnerships. It should purge the word "marriage" from its laws and legal definitions, replacing that term with "civil union." A "civil union" could then have all the rights and privileges under the law that "marriages" do today. If a couple still wanted to be "married" then they could petition any religious organization of their choice to bestow that status upon them. This solution is aligned with the concept of separation of church and state, and I think it can resolve all the related problems of medical consent, property rights, inheritance, and so on. It truly makes all people equal under the law in this regard. New couples wishing to be legal in the eyes of the state would merely have to register as a civil union, no formal ceremony would be necessary.
The concept of marriage has always been a religious one. Human beings have always paired up, for the most part, with a minority of societies advocating multiple spouses. Even within those societies, I believe polygamy was practiced primarily by the privileged, the elite. The vast majority of marriages have been between one man and one woman. The average man and woman view marriage as a partnership even though it was traditionally an unequal one. Religion defined the marriage contract for virtually all societies. Since governments were often partners with the societies' religious factions, marriage was left to the church. The merely recognized the union.
The U.S. was possibly the first to formally establish a separation of church and state by eschewing a state sanctioned religion. Over the years, we moved from a "wink and a nod" regarding the concept to court rulings essentially codifying it. Yet we did not truly separate the two when it came to marriage. We should. A marriage, so far as the state is concerned is a melding of two sets of assets. That is, a combining of the property of two people. The state's interest in marriage is also one regarding a stable society, the family being the basic unit of any society. However, this nation saw the individual as the basic unit and simply accepted the family on tradition. It may be the right time to change.
Having the state regard all current marriages as "civil unions" is more a matter of semantics than anything else. The church will still recognize marriage. the individuals can still refer to themselves as married. But the state doesn't need to. Its only real concern is the distribution of the common property if, or when, the relationship is dissolved. Renaming marriages as civil unions will not affect that. What it will do is bring the non-traditional social partnerships under the same rules as marriage is today.
[Addendum as of 11/16/08]
Other views worth reading which both argue against and help prove my point.
A Night Unremembered
6 years ago