Saturday, November 10, 2007

Guaranteed Upgrade for Civil Unions

A Flawed Law - A New Jersey Section editorial in the Sunday NY Times reports that New Jersey's civil union law is not working, citing testimony before a special commission. The column notes that the NJ Supreme Court has mandated equal treatment for same sex couples and concludes that recognizing gay marriage, not improving the status of civil unions, is the path to achieve that end.

What about a completely different approach. Get government out of the marriage business altogether. As Good As News is not suggesting the abolition of marriage, merely recognizing a clash between freedom of religion and equal rights and presenting an alternative that meets both objectives. Marriage has always been a mixture of A) spiritual commitment and B) contract defining legal and economic rights. Leave part A to religion. Rename Part B as civil union and use it as the sole basis for any and all governmental interaction with the committed couples. Once these two roles are separated, renaming will very gradually lead to redefinition and a governmental approach that can logically, without fear of religious entanglement, address the legal and economic consequences of any law that treats a committed couple as something different than two individuals.

Implementation will raise many issues, but here's a start. Amend all laws so that they refer to civil union, not marriage, and let each religion continue to make its own rules about marriage with no legal concern, subject to one key limit - as is currently the case with a marriage certificate, each couple must obtain a civil union certificate before marriage. A civil union certifcate is all they can get, there will no longer be any marriage certificates. Certificates will not be issued to minors (or any other group of citizens - for example those with severe mental handicaps - the legislature declares ineligible), close relatives or those who are already committed to a prior civil union. Thus the state can use the civil union certification process to aid in the enforcement of laws preventing bigamy, incest and the exploitation of children and other groups that do not have the capacity for a marriage or civil union.

All existing laws referring to marriage are, by omnibus amendment, changed to refer to civil union instead. This would include everything -divorce, joint tax returns (it would be nice to implement the same plan simultaneously on a federal level) medical privacy and visitation, government pension - you name it - any place that any law, including any municipal law, mentions marriage it now means civil union. Pre-amendment marriages are recognized as valid civil unions under a grandfather clause. The same omnibus amendment automatically replaces the the term spouse with civil union partner. The same law also covers mandatory reinterpretation of marriage and spouse in private documents like wills and pension plans.

A qualified couple (same sex or otherwise) can get a civil union certificate and never get married. They will have the same legal rights as a couple (same sex or otherwise) who gets the civil union certificate and then exchanges vows in a religious marriage ceremony. The civil union, not the marriage, is the basis, the sole basis for all governmentally granted or enforced rights.

This approach guarantees equal legal treatment for same sex couples who enter into a civil union. It also lets each religion make its own rules on eligibility for marriage and may, at least partially, reduce the concern of conservatives who do not want to see government endorsing gay marriage. Once the legal and economic side of marriage is separated from the spiritual, government can begin to deal more freely and effectively with the civil union couple.

2 comments: said...

Michael J. Hassett for President!

-MW Savant, CEO

liebana1 said...

I agree with a "Guaranteed Upgrade for Civil Unions" I call it, "Civilly-Wed". Many persons worldwide have used as their first step down the wedding aisle, whether in a courthouse or otherwise. The basis is the civility of being legally wed to the person of choice.