Let's Separate Civil Government Unions from Religious Marriage
Maybe this idea is too simplistic and wouldn’t work, but I never or rarely read anything or hear anything that proposes this idea which seems so obvious to me.
I lived in Europe for most of my childhood and early teen years. In Belgium they have true separation of church and state when it comes to marriage/civil union. The state is in charge of civil unions which are legally the same as marriages. To receive these legal rights you must have a civil ceremony before the state in the courthouse or town hall. If you also want to be married in a religious ceremony in the eyes of your church – whatever your faith – then you also have to have a church ceremony/wedding/marriage. You do not have to have both, but to be recognized legally as a couple you need the state’s civil union, and to be married in the eyes of your faith you need a church ceremony. After seeing how this works there I have never understood why in the United States, with our great tradition of separation of church and state we do NOT separate church and state when it comes to marriage.
To me this is so SIMPLE. The States and Federal Government would control the legal institution of marriage (which we could call a civil union to differentiate it from religious marriage) To receive LEGAL recognition of their union a couple would have to have a civil ceremony recognized by the State. Then, if they want to also have a religious union/marriage that would be purely religious and governed by the rules/tenants of their particular religion or denomination. For example: the Episcopal church could recognize gay marriage and perform them, but the Catholic church would be free to NOT recognize gay marriages. It would be up to the individual church and denomination and the members thereof.
So, we all have to first get married or have our union recognized by the State. Then if we want to – we can have a religious ceremony as well. This takes religion OUT of the civil rights of partnerships AND it takes GOVERNMENT OUT of religious marriage.
So tell me where I am going wrong – because this really seems like a no brainer to me. The key thing is that everyone is going to have to agree to call the civil/state/government marriage a civil union to differentiate it from marriage which would be a religious union, free to be defined by each church and denomination differently.
My gay friends can celebrate and make legal their committed relationships and if they are religious and in a church that accepts gay marriage then they can get married too. My more conservative Christian friends are free to define marriage as only between a man and a woman in their churches. We the people of each State could then define civil union in a non-relgious and hopefully in more States more open and inclusive partnership.