Holy Matrimony

Just read today that the US Census Bureau will not record married couples as married unless they are of different genders. In other words, the words "married", "husband", and "wife" will have the implicit modifier "heterosexual(ly)" in the census documents.

This seems rather petty on the part of the Census Bureau, but it is completely on a par with most cases where religious traditions, practices, and/or beliefs become part of civil law. For many years, I have advocated that the word marriage, which is so highly loaded with religious baggage, be removed completely from our civil law and replaced with a purely civil term, like "civil union". We could have laws that specified under what conditions civil unions could be created and dissolved, and what rights and responsibilities flowed from their existence. In parallel, there could also be marriages--religious unions--and each religion could define their own set of conditions and definitions. However, no marriage would be recognized by the law unless it also met the criteria of a civil union. Religious leaders could become qualified to perform civil unions, but they would be obligated to follow the civil law in so doing. This would be very rational, and would solve a heap of social and politico-emotional problems.

However, California and Massachusetts have now made this approach impossible by legally extending "marriage" to include homosexual unions, which are recognized by almost no religious organization, or by the US Census Bureau. It is no longer quite so easy to resolve the problem by use of the "civil union" versus "marriage" dichotomy.

The only thing I can think of as a possible direction for change is for religions to back away from the word marriage, and to use a word that has a strong religious connotation, such as "holy matrimony". Since there is nothing that corresponds to husband or wife that are strictly religous words, perhaps something like "sanctified husband/wife" could be promoted. This terminology would never be used informally, but it could be used whenever necessary to distinguish religious from purely secular marriages.

For example, my marriage, performed by a marriage commissioner in British Columbia, is a legal marriage, and under it, I am a husband and my wife is a wife. Yet, we would never refer to our union as an instance of "holy matrimony", and our roles in it were never sanctified by any religious organization. I would be perfectly content to stop using the words "marriage", "husband", and "wife" completely, in favor of "union", "partner", "spouse", and so on. Under my proposal, homosexual married couples could use the same terminology, while only couples whose marriages were sanctified in the religious sense could reasonably use "holy matrimony" or "sanctified spouse".

It is interesting to note that some churches actually do recognize homosexual marriage, so for members of those religions, a homosexual marriage, civil union, or even a legally unrecognized relationship could be an instance of holy matrimony. It really is because of such confusions and ambiguities that I still think that the best solution is to get the government strictly out of the "marriage" business.

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