Making marriage civil

John LaTorre is a Sacramento tent maker

When the topic of gay marriage comes up, we hear a lot about “the sanctity of the traditional union.” Let’s call that argument what it really is: a breach of the wall between church and state.

One thing the founding fathers got right was the doctrine that the state has absolutely no business determining what is sacred and what’s not. Sanctity is the domain of the church, not the state, and whenever we confuse the two, we get into big trouble. (If you don’t believe me, read a little history or look in the newspaper and see how theocracies like Iran or Saudi Arabia want their citizenry to behave.)

Why is gay marriage such a contentious issue? One reason is that we are using the word “marriage” to denote both a civil contract and a sacrament. The solution is simple: Take religion out of the equation, as we did when we rolled back the “blue laws” and faith-based requirements to hold office.

Governments should recognize no states of “marriage” whatsoever. Instead, they should institutionalize the concept of “civil unions” across the board, with no distinction paid to the gender of those being united. All unions currently listed as “marriages” should be converted to “civil unions,” and all future unions should be recorded as such. These civil unions would be granted exactly the same legal rights, privileges and responsibilities currently accorded to those who are “married” in the present sense of the term. All states would recognize these unions across the board and accord all visitors (either from other states or overseas) the same effective status.

So, you want to get married? So, you want to reserve the sacrament of marriage for heterosexual couples only? By all means do so—in the confines of a church that shares your beliefs.

These sacraments would hold exactly the same legal weight as baptism or last rites or any of the other ceremonies that once were considered legal transactions but now are perceived to be the domain of the church and the church alone: meaningful to the participants, important to the social fabric and a pretty good justification for a party if you want to throw one, but no business of the state.