Why Oregon Needs a Civil Union

This essay appeared in abbreviated form in the on-line version of the Portland Oregonian in May, 2005

Author: Samuel Metz

Date: 04/30/2005

Marriage is no place for government. The religious ceremony of Marriage requires respect totally separate from government.

Religious Marriage is a bond between woman and man, endorsed by that religion, providing permanence so children enjoy a stable home; encouraging fidelity; and perpetuating religious values in a new generation.

Government should not interfere.

But it does. Government created a non-religious contract, misleadingly also called marriage, entitling signatories to legal rights. It compels participation in legal responsibilities independent of the original religious purpose of marriage. Government marriage does not assure permanence because it permits divorce, does not compel fidelity if neither party objects, does not encourage children, and does not require religious commitment. In short, government marriages are travesties of the original rite of Marriage.

If government assigns rights to a non-religious contract, it is appropriate that they be independent of religious endorsement. It is also appropriate that government not interfere with the right of every religion to recognize marriage in whatever form that religion deems appropriate.

We need a Civil Union.

A Civil Union is not Marriage. It is a legal relationship in which couples voluntarily assume legal responsibilities currently assigned by the government to Marriage. The contract spells out specifically each member's obligations, including matters of health insurance, life insurance, power of attorney, inheritance, and other non-religious issues.

Couples may terminate a Civil Union only after addressing all contractual responsibilities. The Civil Union contains no reference to fidelity, bearing children, or religious obligations. Partners desiring these commitments may seek out a religion that will, perhaps, perform a Marriage ceremony.

Marriage should be returned to religions. It is appropriate that government allow religions to Marry two people only after a Civil Union. This insures only those couples committed to all responsibilities that marriage entails be eligible for religious Marriage.

Each religion remains free to conduct Marriage according to its tradition, as they do now. Religions could refuse to marry couples for any reason, including absence of lifetime commitment, refusal to bear or raise children in the religion, previous marriages, same sex couples, religious intermarriage, etc.

Legal responsibilities created by Civil Unions need not be honored by any religion. No religion need marry anyone simply because they entered a Civil Union. Civil Union partners would not be regarded as Married unless they found a religion willing to sanctify the Union with its ceremony.

Similarly, all legal interactions would recognize Civil Unions and would, by law, exclude any religious rights or interference in religious practice.

How would we benefit? We protect the institution of Marriage from government interference. Religions remain free to grant or deny Marriage to any couple for any reason without fear of government meddling.

Civil Union partners who cannot find a religion that will marry them, or do not desire a religious marriage, are not denied legal rights. They cannot claim discrimination. They suffer no legal harm if denied a religious ceremony. Ergo, they cannot create any legal pressure on any religion to perform a Marriage ceremony.

A Civil Union takes government out of the Marriage business, protects each religion's right to define Marriage according to its traditions; ensures that no one wishing a Civil Union is denied it because of religious beliefs, or absence thereof. Marriage is respected; legal rights become independent of religious sanction; and religions enjoy rights to practice without interference.

Government and Marriage: a bad combination.

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