“There’s no place for the state in the bedrooms of the nation”
– Pierre Elliott Trudeau in 1967
This September will mark the 10 year anniversary of equal marriage in Manitoba. While our neighbours to the south still grapple with the question of gay marriage, Canada has pretty much finished with the question, and we have moved on. The sky didn’t fall down, the sun came up, and heterosexual people didn’t start divorcing en-masse to join in holy matrimony with a new same-sex partner. Canada pretty much stayed the same after 2004 and 2005; we went from the status-quo to the status-quo + equal marriage.
I however look back and wonder if we even looked at the right question. After years of thought, and an awakening about my true feelings when it comes to religion, it occurs to me that perhaps the governments of the day, and of today, have the wrong approach on this topic. Why is the government involved in marriage at all? Why did governments feel that it was their prerogative to define marriage in the first place?
Historically marriage has been a religious institution, some would argue a cultural institution, but for the most part it has its roots firmly in religion. It is in many religions, and many religions practice it in different ways. It is really a religious entity.
Now, at first glance, it may seem that I am giving credence to those who would say that their religion should have some say about how we write marriage laws in this country, this is however not the case. What I am saying is that we should not have marriage laws at all.
The government should get out of the marriage business.
Sometimes, it has been said, the obvious solution is staring you in the face. This is one of those cases. Early on in the equal marriage debate we had the idea of same-sex couples having a domestic partnership, basically marriage in practice, but not in name. I’m not sure if that was the legal term, but I’m no lawyer so forgive me, please! It was not fair, it was discriminatory, and it was not a tenable solution. It did however provide us with an alternative, in my mind a much better alternative that we did not take.
The government should have taken the opportunity to get out of the marriage business altogether. Instead of moving forward and extending marriage to same-sex couples, we should have taken the opportunity to define a clear cut separation between church and state. We should have dropped marriage as a government recognized institution in Canada.
All marriages should have become legally recognized as domestic partnerships.
This doesn’t actually mean that you wouldn’t be able to get married in Canada today, far from it. It would only mean that as far as the government was concerned, your religious practice, in this case marriage, would be of no consequence to them. The law would be blind to this religious practice.
How would this affect your taxes? It wouldn’t. You would still file joint taxes with your spouse, but as far as the government was concerned, you would check the box for “in domestic partnership”. How would this affect the validity of your marriage? It wouldn’t. That would be between you and your church. Why involve the government? If your church believes in same-sex marriages, then it performs them. If it doesn’t believe in it, then it doesn’t. No government involvement.
As an atheist it seems funny that I have to be involved in what is essentially a religious institution for my spouse and I to have the rights afforded to each other that we want to have. Yes, there is such a thing as registering a common-law relationship in Manitoba, but realistically it is not the same. Despite having had a civil marriage ceremony with a marriage commissioner, the institution itself is still very rooted in religion.
And because of that, we don’t actually want to be married anymore.
We’ve discussed it. There is no marital breakdown, we probably love, respect, and understand each other more than we ever have before. She is my best friend, and I am hers. We just don’t believe in the institution anymore. We enjoy the legal protections that marriage affords us when it comes to healthcare, property rights, and child rearing. We have a greater commitment than a common-law relationship, and we recognize that. We just do not want to call it marriage. It’s a loaded word and we don’t like it anymore.
So we’d like the government to get out of the marriage business.
And it’s not just a matter of our relationship.
We’ve seen a few couples’ marriages break up in the last few years and the fact that it takes at least a year to get un-married when there is only a waiting period of 24 hours to get married in the first place seems ludicrous. I understand that there are legal challenges when it comes to separation of assets, custody of minor children, and income support in instances where it is required. What I don’t understand is why these civil responsibilities get tied up with the religious institution of marriage. I’ve watched people remain married for years, as the monetary and custody battles ensue, to someone they despise. If we separated the legal from the religious, these people could be “divorced” in the eyes of their religion, if allowed by that religion, while the legal issues wind their way through court.
Marriage and divorce should be in the hands of religion. Domestic partnerships and their dissolution should be in the hands of the government and the courts. The two do not need to be entwined together. They are separate issues, despite many people’s belief that they are inexorably linked.
It is also my feeling that this is possibly the only solution that would put the matter to rest in the United States. The establishment clause in the Constitution prevents the government from passing laws that favour the establishment of one religion over others. Recognizing the Judaeo-Christian belief that marriage is between one man and one woman to me is a clear violation of that clause. The fact that the government recognizes marriage at all, in my mid, may be a violation of the clause. The American government especially, since its enshrined in the Constitution, should be blind when it comes to religious practices. This is clearly one of them.
The whole idea that the government needs to legislate people’s relationships seems more and more foreign to me as I get older. The government really has no business in the bedrooms (or churches) of the nation, just as true today as in 1967.