The nation is raging about gay marriage this week, and just about everyone is all worked up over what I see as merely, ironically enough, homonyms/homographs.
Part of our society believes that marriage is a covenant before God, between a man and a woman, and was instituted at the beginning of human history. I am going to lose a bunch of you at this point when I say that I believe this, but please read on, for a little bit longer, I might just surprise you.
Another part of our society believes that marriage is a contract between two consenting adults and the government, and is defined by the government. I believe this as well. And now I have just lost the rest of my readers…
If you are still here, you are hopefully asking, “How does that work, aren’t they are conflicting opinions?!?!”
Well since you asked, I do not believe they are, and here is why…
The fundamental problem is that marriage is both of these things, or rather I should say that marriage-a is the first, and marriage-b is the second, but marriage-a is not the same as marriage-b. At some point in the past, marriage-a was always entered into at the same time as marriage-b, and the two became associated so closely that they became the same thing, for at that point in time they were compatible, and there was no issue.
The problem is that now marriage-a and marriage-b are no longer the same thing, but we have not been able to comprehend that they are not the same thing. One group is shouting that we need to change marriage to allow for the two adults to be of the same gender, and another group is shouting that marriage cannot be changed, it is defined by God as between a man and woman. If we can all understand that we are arguing about different things, and remove the association between the two things, I think we will all be able to un-wad our panties, at least about this.
I see marriage-a as defined by a religion (term used very loosely here), and as such has many definitions, including conflicting ones. However, if the marriage is only relevant within the context of the religion, it really does not matter much whether the definitions differ, since those adherents of religion-a should only really be concerned with how marriage is defined in religion-a, and how marriage is defined in religion-b only affects those who are adherents of religion-b.
Likewise, if we can limit marriage-b to the governmental realm, it is free to be defined by the government as it so desires, and since the definition only matters insofar as it affects the interactions between the government and the parties involved, and it does not have any bearing on the definitions of marriage-a, then we should not have any problem.
Thus two consenting adults are free to participate, or not, in the the governmental definition of marriage, such as the people of the governed country have determined it should be defined. Those two same people are also free to participate, or not, in the marriage as defined by the religion, or not, of their choice. The two institutions of marriage need not be entered into at the same time, and they are most definitely not entered into for the same purpose.
All those who have chosen to enter into the governmental institution of marriage should be treated equally insofar as the it affects the interactions with the government. Not an exclusive list by any means, but this should apply to tax status, ability to legally co-own property, participate in shared health care plans, be able to make decisions about their partner’s health care when that partner is not able to do so themselves, etc.
Likewise, all religions should be free to have their own definition of marriage, and it would only affect those who are adherents of that religion, and thus affects no one else. Separation of church and state is just as much, if not more so, to protect the church and religious freedom from the state, as it is to protect the state from the church.
It all comes down to words, but our society has so far been able to deal with the word “fair” meaning both a place to get ripped off by carnies, and something that is just and equitable, I think we should be able to deal with marriage having two different meanings as well.