Columnists > Voices

Beyond partners

Ending civil marriage would be a terrible mistake

Issue: "The waiting game," March 22, 2008

Gay activists claim that allowing homosexuals to marry each other is not an assault on the institution of marriage. But to accommodate the gay agenda, some legal theorists and lawmakers are proposing drastic changes in the legal status of marriage.

The Maryland state legislature is currently considering a bill that would eliminate civil marriage. Instead, all couples would enter into a "civil union," the marriage lite arrangement originally crafted for homosexuals. Under the terms of the bill, the state's family law code would replace the word "marriage" with "valid domestic partnership."

The sponsor of the bill, Democratic state Sen. Jamie B. Raskin, is spinning the measure as a way to address religious concerns about gay marriage. "If people want to maintain a religious test for marriage," he said, "let's turn it into a religious institution." Couples would get their domestic partnership papers, and then, if they also wanted to be "married," they could go to a church, which could handle the matter according to its own teachings. Marriage would become a mere religious rite, with no special legal status.

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Nancy D. Polikoff, a law professor at American University, has written a book on the subject, Beyond (Straight and Gay) Marriage: Valuing All Families under the Law. She says that domestic partners could describe themselves as married, if they want to. "The state does not police people's vocabulary. It does, however, signify modern ideals through official nomenclature. For that, the state should use the language of partnership and leave marriage to religion."

But marriage is not just for religion. Though even some Christians are saying that the government should get out of the marriage business, this betrays a monumental misunderstanding.

Roman Catholicism and Eastern Orthodoxy believe that marriage is a sacrament and thus that the church creates marriage, but Protestants have always taught otherwise.

Marriage is not a sacrament, said the Reformers, because non-Christians can also get married. God indeed established marriage, and He even establishes individual marriages ("What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate" [Matthew 19:6]). In doing so, God created the family, which is the foundation of all other social orders, including cultures and governments.

The Reformers saw marriage as belonging specifically to the civil order. Does this mean that if the government legalizes gay marriage, Christians would have to accept it? Not at all. It is still God who determines marriage. (What God has kept separate, let not man join together.)

Christian couples sign a marriage license, which binds them in a legal union, then have a Christian wedding, which dedicates their union to Christ. But couples married before a justice of the peace or in a wedding chapel in Vegas are just as married.

Eliminating civil marriage in favor of domestic partnerships, with their easy "dissolution," would make families even more unstable and transient than they are today. Children would be the main victims. Meanwhile, marriage would be reduced to a socially irrelevant church event with which few would bother, with no more legal status than baptism or confirmation.

Comments? Email Ed Veith at gveith@worldmag.com

Gene Edward Veith
Gene Edward Veith

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