On Friday the Supreme Court changed the national debate over gay marriage – it decided to tackle the issue this spring. The Supreme Court’s eventual decision will probably either legalize gay marriage nationwide, or force conservative states to recognize gay marriages that occurred outside their borders.
Naturally, a court ruling will cause new questions to arise. Must houses of worship marry or recognize same-gender marriages in order to preserve their tax exempt status? Are deeply religious business people constitutionally required to offer heterosexual and homosexual employees identical spousal benefits? Will faith-oriented private schools be allowed to deny employment to an individual because he or she is married to someone of the same sex?
In the short term, the status quo will prevail. But after decades of relative political ease, religious traditionalists can expect to be burdened by evolving societal standards in the near future. This eventuality demands thoughtful planning. Otherwise, new cultural mores will catch many off guard: houses of worship will lose their tax exempt status, and devoutly religious business owners and private school administrators will find themselves facing lawsuits for discrimination.
The best solution to this thorny situation is the least popular – end government involvement in marriage. If the government stopped issuing marriage licenses altogether, activists would have less to argue about. Equality would be on the horizon. Sadly, demagogues would purposefully equate the end of government-sponsored marriage, with the end of marriage in modern society. They would be wrong.
If, as devoutly religious Americans often claim, marriage involves the spiritual union of a man and a woman, government involvement is utterly superfluous. A commitment before God is all that is needed. On the other hand, if marriage is simply a contract (as many Americans believe), consenting adults can easily create legally binding contracts (the wealthy already do).
From a governmental perspective, the end of formal marriages would effect a great many things – taxes, inheritance, emergency health care decisions, etc. Yet marriage’s practical utility can be replicated without a government-recognized status update. The tax code can be modernized, and an addition to existing driver’s license forms can address many of the remaining problems. This addendum would enable each applicant to specify a person or persons who are given specific rights or empowered to make certain decisions if the applicant is incapacitated. Check boxes, simple questions, and a series of blanks that require identifying information would suffice.
It is doubtful that the government will ever be removed from the marriage equation. Presently marriage activists on both sides of the debate are engaged in a grudge match; neither side is willing to give an inch. Unfortunately, an alternative solution is unacceptable to hardened partisans. The debate will end soon, and devoutly religious Americans will suffer for their shortsightedness.