Wednesday, October 25, 2006

A Sensible Marriage Law

The New Jersey Supreme Court today ruled that the state's constitution requires that committed same-sex couples have equal legal rights as mixed-sex married couples. There has been quite a lot of noise about undermining the religious institution of marriage, which only highlights the need to separate the legal concept from the religious version, in order to prevent either from impinging on the other's turf. The obvious solution is this:


The Marriage Protection Act of 2006
  1. Findings and Statement of Purpose. Considerable controversy has arisen over the conflict between the desire of many same-sex couples to have legal recognition and protection for their relationships, and the religious beliefs of many citizens that same-sex relationships are immoral. It is thus necessary to separate the religious institution of marriage from the legal recognition of romantic partnership, in order to protect both.
  2. Any two adult persons may enter into a Civil Marriage.
  3. All existing references to marriage in state and federal law shall be construed as applying to Civil Marriage, except where those references would restrict the availability of Civil Marriage based on sex.
  4. Civil Marriage shall be recognized as valid in all civil contexts, including but not limited to employment, housing, and public accommodations.
  5. The religious institution of marriage may be defined by any religion, without interference of any kind from the government. No religion shall be required to recognize any Civil Marriage as a valid religious marriage, nor shall a Civil Marriage be a requirement for recognition of a religious marriage.
  6. Any religious corporation shall be required to recognize the validity of Civil Marriage in any context in which it provides employment, housing, or public accommodations, except where such benefits are explicitly and specifically limited to adherents of that particular religion.
I'm sure there are several pages of legalese that would be needed to flesh out the concept, but I think that's a pretty good summary of the framework. One inconspicuous detail in my proposal is that it would effectively legalize polygamy within a religious context, although only two of the participants could be civilly married; the others would have to have legal documents to formalize their connection for civil purposes. While the people of the United States overwhelmingly oppose polygamy — by an even larger margin than same-sex marriage — the fact is that much of the harm caused by polygamy results from the necessity of hiding from public view. If we as a nation are serious about religious liberty, it must extend to FLDS as much as to Methodists or Baptists, and they must be allowed to practice their religion in the light of day.

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