Kmiec on Gay Marriage
Along with a colleague, he comes up with the following proposal:
“Give gay and straight couples alike the same license, a certificate confirming them as a family, and call it a civil union — anything, really, other than marriage. For people who feel the word marriage is important, the next stop after the courthouse could be the church, where they could bless their union with all the religious ceremony they wanted. Religions would lose nothing of their role in sanctioning the kinds of unions that they find in keeping with their tenets. And for nonbelievers and those who find the word marriage less important, the civil-union license issued by the state would be all they needed to unlock the benefits reserved in most states and in federal law for married couples.”
This is not a new idea, but I think its merit increases over time. It’s certainly not first best, which is a situation where the civil authorities specifically acknowledge and favor an institution that acts as the foundation of society — permanent marriage between one man and one woman geared toward the bearing and rearing of children. The problem is, this is no longer the social standard and we fool ourselves to think otherwise. First, serial monogamy is considered the norm, and the incidence of divorce is actually greatest in those parts of the country supposedly most religious. And, second, we have long passed the point of thinking about marriage as the bearing and rearing of children — instead, it is seen in exclusive romantic terms, the fulfilment of individual needs and desires. With these two pillars collapsed, is it any wonder that the third– the one pertaining to man and woman– would be the next to go? Where were all those supposed defenders of traditional marriage when heterosexuals were busy redefining it over the years?
Let’s face reality: gay marriage has almost universal appeal among the younger generations. It is not like abortion where divisions remain sharp. And this is because marriage is seen solely in terms of individual rights, something with a very American flavor (and here, as with so many other things, false divisions into “liberal” and “conservative” camps fall flat). So, what do we do? Well, we do all we can to sharpen the distinction between the civil arrangement and the sacrament of marriage. No longer should the privilege of Catholic marriage be available on demand, where nothing is demanded beyond a perfunctory pre-Cana weekend. No, the standards would be much higher. Want your Church wedding? Well, how about actually believing what the Church teaches! This strategy has the added benefit of avoiding any accusations of homophobia — and let’s face it, much of the attack on gay marriage is an attack more the “gay” part than the “marriage” part!