Can Church and State Be Happily Wed on an Idea of Marriage?
By HEATHER BRADY
The Vermont Legislature enacted a law last week that legalized gay marriage. This brings to the forefront of America’s mind the ongoing battle that members of the gay community are fighting to gain marriage rights in the United States.
The gay community has been working for decades to make this happen. But while their efforts should be applauded, the goal they are working towards is perhaps somewhat off in the context of what they are trying to achieve.
For instance, the word ‘marriage’ has held strong religious connotations in society throughout most of history. While couples can get married simply by obtaining a certificate from their local city hall, most couples choose to show their declaration of marriage with a religious ceremony.
However, many organized religions are still working through the issue of whether to embrace or condemn same-sex couples. The gay community as a whole also doesn’t seem to associate itself frequently with religious communities, largely as a result of this unresolved religious stance.
This separation between the homosexual community and religious communities can only lead to the idea that homosexual couples are looking for recognition in more political and social aspects of society, rather than in religious circles.
Taking this into account, the legalization of a federal or state civil union, made available to hetero- and homosexual couples alike, would be a better goal to work towards. This recognition by the government of same-sex couples would remove the religious connotation associated with marriage while still allowing the couples to be official in the eyes of the government and to retain certain rights and privileges.
An example of such a union is found in France with the pacte civil de solidarité, or civil pact of solidarity (PACS for short). The law creating this union was passed in 1999, and it allows couples to be recognized by the government in their responsibilities to each other, as well as to have certain tax benefits, like the ability to file taxes jointly.
Couples in a PACS are considered to be like a married couple in some ways and like two single individuals in other ways, creating a step in between the two positions. In the United Kingdom, this equivalent exists in the form of a civil partnership, or CP. A CP is considered to be closer to marriage than the French PACS, but only same-sex couples can enter into a CP, whereas heterosexual couples are also eligible to be ‘pacsed,’ as it is called in France.
The French PACS have been very successful; only 10 percent of PACS in France have been dissolved after three years, as compared to 33 percent of marriages. Heterosexual couples are also seeing the benefit from this sort of union, and the amount of heterosexual couples being pacsed has now exceeded the number of same-sex couples taking advantage of the opportunity.
If the United States legalized such an opportunity, it would be a way to recognize the rights of same-sex couples while separating them from the religious connotation of marriage. This separation can only further enhance the government’s ability to be fair in its treatment of citizens and to remove religious controversy from legislation concerning their rights. And considering the idea that a separation of church and state is necessary, this would be one more way to better serve the people without the added burden of a government supported by a belief system that may not be their own.