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State should recognize secular marriages
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Editor, Manteca Bulletin,
Dennis Wyatt proposed an interesting solution to the gay marriage controversy by suggesting, “the state should only recognize civil unions period.” Marriage would then be confined to religious ceremonies only. Although this option would result in equal treatment for heterosexual or same-sex unions by the state (a worthy goal), I find it ironic that those seeking to “defend” or “preserve” marriage, by their unwillingness to share the term, are actually causing it to be marginalized and minimized. Marriage, like baptism, would become strictly a religious rite and lose the great social significance it now commands.

Countless state government forms would need to be changed to reflect the switch from “marriage” to “civil union.” Insurance information, doctor’s forms, medical records, public school family data, and employment applications must also undergo revisions. Think of the endless paperwork and expense. And for what? To paraphrase Shakespeare, “would a rose, by any other name, not smell as sweet?” Whatever it is called, I fear that some who oppose gay marriage do so not only because of a reluctance to share the actual term “marriage” with gay couples, but also because of deeply held religious convictions that gay unions violate the concept of marriage itself. Just changing the term from “marriage to “civil union” will not placate them.

In a previous editorial, Dennis Wyatt acknowledged the power of words and “loaded” terms, apologizing for letting the phrase “admittedly gay” slip by his editing pen. But where is his editorial sensitivity in this commentary, where he uses such dismissive and derogatory phrases as, “keep bringing the measure back until they wear enough people down,” “those who support gay unions but vote against such a measure (civil unions for all) obviously want to hammer churches into submission,” and “yes, marriage in the church has deteriorated in many quarters but that isn’t justification to just hijack the term”? Wearing people down, hammering churches into submission, and hijacking the term “marriage,” all evoke negative imagery. Contrary to Mr. Wyatt’s later assertion, semantics do matter and words can be powerful tools for either negative or positive change. Consider the adjectives “secular” and “religious” and how they significantly define an issue. Rather than “hammering churches into submission,” I suggest an initiative along these lines: “The state of California shall recognize secular marriages between two consenting adults (18 and over) and shall issue secular marriage licenses which confer on participants all rights and privileges of marriages previously defined by the state. Furthermore, this initiative reinforces the constitutionally conferred right of “Holy matrimony” as the province of churches and religious institutions and shall, as such, leave the standards and requirements for church-sanctioned marriages and weddings to these individual religious institutions. For legal purposes, all marriages, whether secular or religious, require a state issued secular marriage license to be officially recognized by the state of California.” Language such as this would prevent polygamy and answer exaggerated fears that people could marry animals or children. By clearly acknowledging the religious ceremony of marriage as the responsibility of individual churches, subjects to the church” guidelines and doctrines, religious institutions are safeguarded against being forced to perform gay marriage ceremonies in their churches, if that contradicts their church tenets. Official forms could remain as they do now, without distinguishing between secular or religious marriages, for official purposes.

I don’t have all the answers to the gay marriage issue. I’m simply offering an alternative to Mr. Wyatt’s suggestion as a way to start the discussion process. This is a complex issue that evokes passionate, deeply emotional responses. But it is important to have thoughtful, reasoned dialogue, from both sides, on this issue.

I don’t share the beliefs of the Mormon or Catholic Churches, but I recognize their right to practice their own doctrines and tenets. Their beliefs do not threaten or negatively impact my life or my own religion and faith. But when powerful religious institutions use spiritual guidance and their considerable financial resource to influence voters, it does negatively affect the lives of gays. Think about this: For almost a year now, 18,000 gay couples have enjoyed the benefits of legal marriage in this state. Has your marriage truly been harmed by this fact? If churches retain the power to marry in their churches according to church law, can they accept the idea that some churches embrace gay marriages? Or must religious beliefs spill over into the private sector?
Karen Pearsall
May 28, 2009