March 11, 2004 (Ira Pilgrim)


Neither in England nor America would a proposal to abolish marriage be tolerated for a moment; and yet nothing is more certain than that in both countries the progressive modification of the marriage contract will be continued until it is no more onerous nor irrevocable than any ordinary commercial deed of partnership.

George Bernard Shaw,1903

Hundreds of male-male and female-female couples have lined up in front of San Francisco's city hall to get legally married and to voluntarily and eagerly give up what little freedom they now have. In the process, the city is picking up a bundle of money. If those marriages hold up in our legal system, they will be the same as heterosexual marriages. Therefore, if a gay couple decides to end their marriage, they will not be able to do so without the involvement of at least one lawyer and a judge; not to mention a chunk of money. That will be the price of being legally married.

My wife and I were married at city hall in Salt Lake City. I thought that it would be a simple procedure. Instead we listened to a man give a long sermon. It was all that I could do to keep from saying, "Shut up and give us the paper!" We have been married for 36 years. Would we still be together now if we had not been legally married? I can answer that question with an unequivocal "Yes!" Had we decided not to stay together, would the legality of our marriage have made any difference? I can answer that question with an unequivocal "No!"

So what are the advantages of being legally married? There are a few important ones. If I am in a hospital, ill or dying, my wife is allowed in my room, whereas a permanent live in girl friend would not be. When she or I die, our assets automatically go to the survivor. So how does a marriage, in this respect, differ from a civil union? It doesn't.

Some religious people believe that the word "marriage" belongs to them. It is not just a word; it is a word that represents a religious sacrament. They are offended when same-sex couples use the word for their union. They have proposed a constitutional amendment that states: "Marriage in the United States shall consist only of the union of a man and a woman. Neither this constitution or the constitution of any state, nor state or federal law, shall be construed to require that marital status or the legal incidents thereof be conferred upon unmarried couples or groups." I believe that this is the first time in the history of this country that a constitutional amendment has been propose solely to define a word. That word is "marriage." The whole business strikes me as being just plain silly. However it is silliness on a presidential scale.

When people take marriage vows, most of them sincerely believe that they will stay together for life. About half of the time they do. In spite of the temporary nature of half of all marriages, weddings are often very elaborate and very expensive. The only thing that can compete with marriage in cost and elaborate folderol is funerals. As most of us know, in this country, anything that makes money is thought to be good, good, good.

I have a proposal that might solve the whole problem. That proposal is to get government out of marriage business altogether. Government shouldn't have been in the marriage business in the first place. Before governments got into the act, marriage was the business of religious institutions. People would get married by a clergyman, or they would simply set up a household together in what is called a common law marriage. My proposal is that all unions should be civil unions in the eyes of the government, mostly to make them a matter of public record, like birth certificates are. If people wished to register their unions, they would go to a government office, fill out a form and get a certificate of union and that union would be registered and legal. No ceremony and no vows. Government issue marriage licenses would be abolished. This should not affect the issuance of business licenses or dog licenses. Instead, a certificate of union would be issued and recorded. It is necessary , for a variety of reasons, to keep public records of births and people living together. If people wanted the elaborate folderol of a wedding, they would have to find a clergyman or go to a wedding chapel, like the ones that they have in Nevada. This should satisfy everyone. It has never been, nor should it be, the business of government to try to make people happy.

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