a proposal to remove the word "marriage" from our legal discussions

I'm a conservative, born-again Christian.

I do believe the Bible forbids homosexual expression, and I've written many times about that contention, but I don't think those prohibitions can be legislated in a multi-cultural society such as America's.

I do think marriage, in the Bible is only between one man and one woman, in agreement with Jesus, see Mark 10:5-9. I have presented many explanations on this blog why gay marriage is not a Biblical option.

I think marriage, from it's earliest description is a concept from the Bible, see Genesis 2:22-25. I'm not aware of any earlier data, but am welcome to any if found. I believe marriage is fundamentally a religious word that no longer makes sense in our more religiously diverse culture.

I live in the United States of America that believes in a separation of church and state, but that should not mean a dismissal of the population's religious concerns. Those of us who are religiously conservative object to calling a non-heterosexual union a marriage.

I'll say it again, "Marriage" is a religious word. Perhaps it is time to return that word to the religious, and replace the term "marriage" in the law books with "civil union" or "domestic union" or "civil partnership" or some other legal contract term. That way "marriage" can be practiced as understood by each religious body. Those who are irreligious can call their unions whatever they want. Liberal Christians can call gay unions marriage if they want. But everyone can have a civil union from the state. That way, there will be no "separate but equal" issue, a complaint of advocates of and sympathizer to gay marriage.

Parallel legal terms have worked, as argued for here, and it seen to work great for both gay and straight marriages in France, and the French Catholic church (at first against the law now see no issue with it), and U.S. straight couples now seem to be trying out civil unions instead of marriage, but "separate but equal" just does not fly in our society because of its abuse in history. If everyone could be recognized, who wanted it, as legal domestic partners, with all the rights from the federal government, then the Defense of Marriage Act, another hurdle in the hindrance of federal rights where states recognize offer equal rights, could be bypassed.

My proposal does not mean that clergy could no longer partner with the state, but they would no longer sign marriage licenses, but rather domestic partner licenses. I don't think the opening of the floodgates will result in a wash of gay partnerships but rather more straight partnerships, who dread the "M word" but want to preserve privileged rights including divorce, because without marriage, one can't get a divorce and can be left stranded economically.

I value comments from the left and right on this proposal. I find the wisdom of the NYT editorial by Blankenhorn and Ruach very helpful,
In all sharp moral disagreements, maximalism is the constant temptation. People dig in, positions harden and we tend to convince ourselves that our opponents are not only wrong-headed but also malicious and acting in bad faith. In such conflicts, it can seem not only difficult, but also wrong, to compromise on a core belief.
So if this proposal can help the church demonstrate that we love our neighbors by not denying rights they feel entitled to, by denying ourselves the privilege of power in our society, by living according to the norms of a heavenly culture to provide a contrast of hope, then maybe the kingdom of Jesus in America will be more lamb-like with plowshares instead of swords.

Nuance come from conversation, so please comment here and refine this idea.

See similar proposals from two Pepperdine law professors, expanded on by Time mag, and Ms. mag, and supported by at least one atheist.
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Rich said…
Good post John. I think that would be a wise solution to much of this debate. I agree that marriage originated between a man and a woman, and that all homosexual expression is condemnable by God.

However, I often use the phrase "gay marriage" without thinking much about it. I think that much of our society doesn't think much about it either. Just because I use the word "marriage" doesn't necessarily mean that I support a homosexual relationship.

I personally think that all Christians should be married apart from the government, and be merely accountable to their respective church communities (because it is they who hold similar opinions about marriage, not the government). I don't know if changing the terminology is a hill to die on for me. I could see how certain Christians might want to preserve the term "marriage" in America because they think that America has to be a Christian nation (or at least be dominated by Christian opinions), and that politics play a big part in the expansion of the kingdom of God. I do not agree. My opinion is that the state can issue whatever kind of license they want, and call it whatever they want, because the state is not God, and our society is surely not a theocratic monarchy.

Although I could see how your proposal could work for both sides, I almost think it is beating a dead horse in semantics. There are many words which have changed in meaning over time and where secondary definitions have become the norm (and the traditional definitions are on the bottom of the list.. like "person" for example--in light of the Trinity, any of the individuals of the Trinity are persons (or any being with a mind, for that matter, angels, etc.)... but the most common definition of 'person' today is a human being (and most think only of that definition when that word is used).

Although I strongly disagree with homosexuality, whether they call their unions "marriage" or not just doesn't seem to bother me all that much. There are many words in the Bible which are "religious" in nature but have been diluted. Prophecy, for example. There are true prophecies or false prophecies. Even the word, "God". God should probably be the most sacred word in our Christian vernacular. Yet the same word is used in society for false gods or false religions, or things that are not even gods (perhaps demons, or just human obsessions). Maybe this is why the Old Testament used the tetragrammaton (YHWH) to distinguish the true God from the false gods. But still, the term God, in Christian definition, should only refer to the true and living God, described in the Bible. Yet many people defame the word, and use it inappropriately. It's also used in the Bible to describe false gods. So would it be wrong to classify homosexual marriage as "false marriage"? Why should the government of the U.S. determine which form of marriage is true or false? Let the churches decide that. And if Christians lived out what they preached, and remained faithful to their spouses, and were accountable to church discipline (or at least were excommunicated when biblical grounds for divorce are missing) rather than accountable to the government... we probably wouldn't be in this mess in the first place. I agree in premise, because I think Christian teachers should disciple people by teaching them what true marriage is all about, and that it is ultimately a union between man, woman, and God. But I don't necessarily see why the U.S. must define the term the way we do (since the U.S. is not a Christian nation).
John Umland said…
Thanks for your input.

Here is why "marrying" apart from the government is foolish - divorce. Only the government can force an ex-husband to pay alimony and child support and garnish wages to enforce that ruling. A church can't, nor would we want a church to have that power.

God is good
Tony Baldwin said…
Kind of makes sense to me, indeed.
While people, themselve, should be able to call what they're doing whatever they like, I see the logic in removing the word "marriage" from the legal aspect of this issue, allowing anyone who wishes to have a "civil union" on paper, and all with the same rights, do what they wish in terms of religious/non-religious customs or ceremonies, and religious bodies will make their own decisions, etc..
The terms for spouse, husband, wife, etc., all over the world are different and carry different meanings (as do other familiar relationship terms) to different peoples, as do, of course, the terms we generally translate to or think of as "marriage". Removing it from our legal structure, in my opinion, is a step towards ensuring separation of church and state, even.
Great idea.
Luke said…
C.S. Lewis said something akin to this in Mere Christianity.

John Umland said…
thanks for the tip Luke. I found a quote grab at http://joederbes.wordpress.com/2008/04/25/mere-christianity-13-christian-marriage/
But it seems more like what Rich says, and I have the same objections. Lewis proposes the church would handle marriage legalities for those married in it. i think there are many examples of the integration of church and state being a big mess. i'll repeat myself, who would want a church docking their paycheck because of their divorce?
God is good

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