Copyright 2004 Linda Marcas - All Rights Reserved


Crank's Corner                                                               March 4, 2004


                                             Church and State


   Years ago in Massachusetts, I knew a landlord who refused to rent his
properties to unattatched single people and to unmarried couples, including
his own relatives and their significant others.  This actually might have been
illegal, if anyone had cared enough to take the issue to court and challenge
his restrictions, but no one ever did.  As far as I know, this landlord did not
insist that his tenants had to have been married in a church, but only that
their relationship had been legally recognized by the State.  Single folks who
needed a place to live and couples who wanted to shack up without benefit
of marriage had to take their business elsewhere.
    That was thirty years ago; I doubt that, in these litigious times, he'd be
able to get away with the same discriminatory practice.  I don't think this
landlord's restrictions were based on religion or questions of morality, but on
practicality; it might have been wishful thinking on his part, but he thought
that people who had jumped through the hoops of legally cementing a long-
term relationship were more stable and reliable tenants than those who had
not yet "settled down" to that degree.  If homosexual couples had been
allowed to legally marry, he probably would have rented them an apartment.
    This morning, I watched four Presidential candidates dance around
their opinions on the "gay marriage" issue, carefully announcing no desire
on their part to redefine "marriage" but at the same time trying to sound like
they were against discrimination under the law.  Toss that hot potato as
much as you want to, but chances are that someone is still going to get
burned.
    Right now, the folks who are getting burned are same-sex couples
who want to form binding unions that give them the same rights and
recognitions under the law that have previously been reserved only for
opposite-sex married couples, things like tax breaks (which, in the opinion
of many, discriminate against single people), inheritance laws, and next-of-
kin hospital visiting rights.  You'll notice that I didn't say  "gay couples" or
"heterosexual couples" in that last sentence, because I don't care what goes
on between two consenting adults; if I'm not one of the two people involved,
it's none of my business.  Also, I've known married couples who tied the
legal knot purely for convenience, a straight single mother who married a
gay male friend so they could get a loan to buy a house where they both
could live, and a gay man who married a gay woman (both had other
partners at the time) so he could get a tax break and she could go to college
cheaply because she was married to an employee of the school.
    And that's what seems to be the problem here, the notion that calling
something "marriage" doesn't make it conform to everyone's widely
differing definitions of the word.  All the babble about "redefining" marriage
is senseless, because we don't have a universally agreed-upon definition in
the first place, and I doubt that a single definition is even possible; religious
and civil definitions will always be different.  In this country, we have a
theoretical separation of Church and State, but it seems to me that the
Church keeps trying to creep into what should be purely State business,
trying to impose religious views on secular matters.
    It would be nice if we could all agree to call "marriage" a religious
ceremony, conducted under the rules of the religion of the participants'
choice, and called everything else that granted spousal rights, tax breaks, etc.
to two people who wanted to be a legal couple a "civil union."  The State
would issue "civil union" licenses, and the prospective couple would then
take the license to anyone whom the State had authorized to perform the
legal joining of two persons, whether minister, priest, rabbi, imam, coven
leader, mayor, judge, or justice of the peace.  The couples who undertook a
religious ceremony could, if they wanted to, then call themselves "married"
in a religious sense, but for legal purposes under secular laws they, along
with anyone joined in a purely civil union, would refer to themselves as
"espoused," and the boxes on paperwork would read "single, espoused,
divorced, separated, widowed" instead of "single, married, etc.."  Persons
who got "married" in a religious ceremony conducted by someone who was
not authorized by the State to perform the State-recognized civil union
would have no legal standing as a "couple"; in other words, they'd be in the
same boat that same-sex couples are in today.
    We all know that this is not going to happen; we've been referring to
opposite-sex couples joined in civil ceremonies as "married" for so long that
it's highly unlikely that we'd retrain ourselves to use a new word.  Think of it
this way: if you sneezed and asked someone to pass you a Kleenex from the
box on the table next to them, would you want them to wait until you
rephrased your request to asking for a "tissue" before they handed it over,
because the brand in the box was actually Puffs?
   For exactly this reason, I don't want the Constitution ammended for
the purpose of defining the word "marriage" as a legally binding state
achievable only by opposite-sex couples, thereby discriminating against
same-sex couples under what should be strictly secular laws, applied equally
to everyone who cares to form a legally binding domestic partnership.
Anyone who considers marriage to be a sacrament in a religious sense is
welcome to do so, but it's very plain that, in general, this society doesn't
really believe that to be the case.  If we did, we wouldn't think that Barbara
Walter's dog getting "married" to Joy Behar's dog on The View was cute,
TV programs about marrying a millionaire wouldn't get high ratings, soap
opera characters wouldn't enjoy multiple spectacular weddings, the divorce
rate wouldn't be fifty percent, and Britney Spears wouldn't still be selling
CDs.
    Because so much of the current flap revolves around folks claiming
that they don't want to redefine "marriage," let's go back a bit, and un-
redefine it.  Back in the "good" old days, days which continue in cultures
other than America's, female children were their fathers' property, until their
fathers "gave them in marriage" to their husbands, upon which they became
their husbands' property.  White bridal gowns, in a religious sense, signified
the "purity" of the bride, meaning, "she is a virgin with an intact hymen," so
there should be someone, whether a doctor or a religious leader or an old
woman assigned to the job, who should physically examine the bride before
her wedding and attest to the fact that this is indeed the case (hey, they did
this to Princess Diana) before she's allowed to get married in a white dress,
or married at all.  Some Western cultures didn't insist upon this, but had a
custom of hanging the bloody sheets outside the window the morning after
the wedding, to prove to the neighbors that the bride was a virgin.  Besides
having a dowry, which means the father of the bride essentially bribes the
groom and his family to take his daughter off his hands, anything the bride
might "own" automatically become the groom's as soon as they are
pronounced man and wife, not husband and wife.....he's still a man, but she,
and all of her belongings, are now his property.  And let's not forget the
option of stoning her to death if she's proven unfaithful, or the "rule of
thumb," whereby the man can beat his wife with a stick, as long as it's no
larger in circumference than his thumb.  Hey, "until death do them part,"
right?  Abolish divorce, while youre at it, then see how many people line up
to get married.
    The thing we call "marriage" in America is a swamp of individual
states' laws, which might or might not be recognized by other states in the
Union.  For opposite-sex couples, calling yourselves married, cohabiting,
and presenting yourselves to others as husband and wife constitutes a
"common law" marriage in some states, but not in others.  The lawyers still
make money; if one can't file for divorce, one can always sue for palimony.
Why not let same-sex couples fill the attorneys' pockets as well, by allowing
a legally recognized same-sex marriage, and requiring an official divorce if
the partnership fails, like fifty percent of opposite-sex marriages?  If it's
illegal under Federal law (the State, with a capital "S") to discriminate
against people on the basis of sexual orientation, why don't gay or same-sex
couples have the same right to form a legal domestic union as opposite-sex
couples do?  The only reason I can see is one that stems from various
religious (Church, with a capital "C") reasons, and that seems to mean that,
far from being separated (the First Ammendment, "Congress shall make no
law respecting an establishment of religion..."), Church and State are in bed
together.  What will we have if Church and State get married?  Well, they
tried that in Afghanistan, and called it the Taliban.

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