BY EDWIN E. VINEYARD
Considerable caution should be exercised, and some trepidation felt, when the delicate topic of defining marriage is approached by any writer who is not already an ideologue on the subject.
Most people in our country are separated into different camps on this. It seems now that this separation is into two militant, armed opposing camps, with a third somewhere in the middle wondering why all the fuss and turmoil.
At issue seems to the “all or none” phenomenon so often present in such controversies.
The gay and lesbian activists among us have pressed for popular and legal acceptance of a new definition of “marriage” to include same-sex couples on an equal and undistinguishable basis as traditional marriage.
At the same time there are social and religious conservatives among us who believe that conjugal relationships by any name between same-sex couples are sinful, denounced by the Bible, and that all such should still be against the law.
WHAT’S THE FUSS?
Most of those in the middle, apart from either of the polar groups, tend to question the reasons for the big battle.
They say, “Okay, we don’t understand all about this phenomenon of sexual preference, so let us be at least tolerant, if not accepting, of some kind of civil union arrangement where such couples may have certain appropriate legal rights and privileges.”
However, activist gays and lesbians apparently do not want “acceptance,” and certainly not just “tolerance.” They want recognition and equality, and they see the only way to obtain this is to usurp the accepted societal and legal term of “marriage,” long defined as between a man and a woman.”
Activists are taking a hard-line, polarizing position on terminology.
As stated earlier, the other polar group wants to grant no legal or social status at all to gays and lesbians, generally considering them as little better than outcasts in the dominant culture.
TERMINOLOGY IS THE PROBLEM
It is true that the term “marriage” has had a well-understood, clear definition legally, socially, and in religion for centuries.
Most centrists tend to resent activists’ efforts to encroach upon that term and its definition. They see no reason for changing this long-standing definition, while most are willing to recognize same-sex unions under a different term.
Generally speaking, gay and lesbian activists alienate more people than they win by insisting upon the complete capitulation of social tradition to their own wishes. This is a rather unrealistic expectation. Activist conduct, demands, and slogans often turn away persons in the middle.
The activists use of the courts in an effort to overturn social, religious, and legal tradition may be viewed as extreme by the centrist group.
DOES ‘EQUAL PROTECTION’ APPLY?
Most people do not view the “equal protection” provisions of the 14th Amendment to the Constitution [having to do with treatment of former slaves] as speaking to sexual preference or same-sex marriage, even though courts may have a rationale for assertions to the contrary.
Understanding the thinking of these three groups, both polar and moderate, should help us find a resolution to this festering social and legal problem. Reasonable persons should be able to resolve this issue, but only if there is some spirit of compromise.
That has been lacking.
Perhaps the huge barrier in the way is the dual or tri-partite status of marriage in the western world, particularly the United States. Think of the following sequence:
RELIGIOUS AND CIVIL CONTRACT
We pay a fee for a marriage license at the courthouse, take any necessary tests, and obtain a license. Then we usually go to a minister, perhaps in front of our church congregation, to take our marriage vows. This latter step sanctifies our marriage under God.
On the other hand, we might take our marriage license to a judge, court clerk, or other authorized civil authority, and have it legally confirmed. Either pathway leads finally to the registration of the license in official court records, defining us as “married” for all legal and social purposes, with rights and privileges appertaining thereto.
Thus, marriage is both a religious event and a legal contract. Further, it has had a generally accepted social definition for ages. However, there is also some basis for viewing “marriage” as either a religious or a legal arrangement.
There is another recent, although not well known, arrangement that appears to bear upon the definition of marriage somewhat. Practiced largely by religious oldsters who do not want legal complications, there is a religious ceremony of “commitment,” not “marriage.” In the religious context this has a similar meaning with marriage, but in that context only. It has no legal status.
A MODERATE’S PROPOSAL
To this observer, if we can accept socially the [non-marriage] partnership union of opposite sex couples in a strictly religious sense only, without legal definition or connotations, then perhaps we should be able to recognize the union of same-sex couples on a strictly legal basis, leaving the religious aspects completely out of the equation.
Neither meets the traditional definition of “marriage,” nor is that necessary if the term is not employed.
Again, the concept of “civil union” seems to fit the bill of compromise. A new term may be needed. If “civil union” is not preferred, perhaps “spousal partnership” or “domestic partners” might do.
Again, most moderates are ready for some reasonable solution to the “all or none” dilemma. This issue should not continue to divide our nation. There needs to be some compromise.
– The author, AKA The Militant Moderate, lives in Enid, OK and is a regular contributor to The Oklahoma Observer