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Brandeis University's Community Newspaper — Waltham, Mass.

The Self Shelf: Solving gay marriage: A matter of civics

Published: January 22, 2010
Section: Opinions

Out of all the conflicts that plague our country, few have been as divisive or heated as that over gay marriage. The relatively simple idea that those with identical genders should have the right to marry in the eyes of the state has drawn praise and condemnation across the country. In fact, one would be hard-pressed to find a single citizen who didn’t have a strong opinion one way or the other.

The peculiar aspect about this issue is how often it is painted in terms of black and white. Conservatives decry gay marriage as an “attack upon the sanctity of marriage.” They’re so incensed at this perceived attack upon their most sacred values that they not only try to prevent gay marriage, they go so far as to strive for a constitutional amendment banning it.

Meanwhile, the other side, naturally, struggles to achieve exactly the opposite. Liberals are absolutely intent on achieving the mantle of marriage for homosexuals. The benefits of marriage alone would not be enough because gay couples would not be married in the eyes of the state and would therefore be unequal.

Thus, civil unions have not are not the solution to this morass, at least not in the traditional sense.

With this ideological chasm, a solution that satisfies both sides is never going to come about. Instead, what will occur will be something along the lines of the Proposition 8 dispute in California, with vitriol and hatred spewed by both sides.

Like abortion, this issue brings out the worst in people. In California, one saw religious zealots tout signs condemning the very existence of gay people. Meanwhile, people who contributed to Proposition 8 were ostracized in their communities for their personal views.

Along with everyone else, I do have strong personal views on this issue. However, I am writing here to propose a compromise that will satisfy both sides. I honestly can’t see a fortuitous finale for the gay marriage debate. As it stands bitter fighting will take place until one side is finally crushed into the ideological pavement.

My solution is fairly simple. The debate seems to stem over the sanctity of marriage vs. the value of equal rights. Those with strong religious views believe that allowing homosexuals to marry would violate the sacrament of marraige. Meanwhile, gay marriage advocates want equal recognizance in the eyes of the law.

The irony here is that both sides have valid points. Marriage is a religious institution that has been adopted by the law. Gays have every right to question why they don’t have equal rights under the law and religious conservatives have every right to try and protect their institution. The solution I propose is to take marriage out of the language of the law.

Right about now, you’re probably questioning my sanity, intelligence, or some combination of the above but hear me out. Simply put, one would have all the benefits of marriage but one would no longer pick up a marriage license from the town hall. Instead, there would be a different name for what is in effect the same article. In essence, everyone would recieve a civil union, regardless of sexual orientation

Then, with a state license in hand, the happy couple could have their religious ceremony at the local church. If the church didn’t want to marry gay people, it would not have to. Once this happens, there’s not much to talk about in the gay marriage debate (at least not politically). Obviously, gays would be allowed to obtain a state license for their unions. They would finally have equality before the law while conservatives would have their marital sanctity. The issue of gays striving for marital recognition from churches is entirely separate as it would have nothing to do with the state. The real problem with gay marriage is the fact that a religious institution is embedded in the language of the law. One cannot deny equality in the eyes of the law based on religious premises. If one truly wants to protect the holiness of marriage, then one has to separate it from the law, which shouldn’t be beholden to religious dogma in the first place. In the end, the gay marriage debate comes down to separation of church and state.

Of course, my solution will probably never be implemented. It’s complicated and almost requires more societal change than simply allowing gays the right to marry in the first place. I eagerly await the Congress that tries to “eradicate marriage,” as I’m sure it would be framed. I have no doubt that it will never happen, but it is the only shade of gray I’ve come across with such a polarizing issue.

Instead, we will have more bitter confrontations like Proposition 8 (even now being challenged in court) that will further divide the country. In the event that one side does triumph, divisions and hard feelings will remain.

Either side’s triumph would result in vitriolic infighting that our country simply doesn’t need as it faces its greatest domestic challenge of the last fifty years. With my solution, we can resolve this issue for the state. The conflict over whether churches should allow gays to marry can continue where it belongs, in the realm of religion as opposed to courtrooms across the country.

However, that conflict would undoubtedly be much tamer than the current one, and certainly much less debilitating. Also, this resolution would immediately provide a fair settlement for both sides as opposed to the forcing churches to go against their beliefs or disenfranchising homosexuals.

The gay marriage quandary stems from a constitutional fallacy that came about when homosexuality was banned in most of the world. The framers can’t be blamed for not foreseeing our present crisis but that doesn’t absolve us for not correcting their mistake.

It’s time for this country to move beyond this divisive conflict and deal with its myriad other problems at the dawn of a new decade.