Sitting at dinner with family recently, my brother and I devised a way to solve the entire debate surrounding Proposition 8 (and Prop 22 before it). The answer is simple and I was surprised to find that it really doesn't seem to be on the table for discussion. We propose civil unions for all couples, heterosexual or same sex. Leave the marrying to the church.
In theory, our government is supported by a political doctrine of separation of church and state. Yet marriage is still one area where religion and government are highly entwined, determining everything from pensions and inheritance to adoption and visitation. A church is still the primary officiant of weddings and the one determining who can and can't marry based on internal and external laws. The government determines who is married based often on what the church says, not based on local laws. Get a license, get it signed by your church officiant and you're good to go.
But what about those who don't attend church regularly or at all? Those who are not practicing the faith of their childhood and don't feel comfortable in a church? You have options too. You can have your ceremony performed in the county office or by a county official on the weekend. Or you can choose the option my family has chosen, a close friend ordained by the Universal Life Church. It's a complicated, entangled mess that makes for a lot of debate over a simple issue.
According to a 2006 study by the Pew Forum, a majority of Americans support the idea of civil unions for same-sex marriage. But they are not comfortable giving up their religious idea of marriage in exchange for equality and fairness for everyone. Since marriage is so intricately woven into the fabric of religion, why not reserve it for religion alone?
Our proposal is simple, easy and shouldn't cause any heartache for anyone. Separate the two issues. For all intents and purposes, civil unions would be required to obtain the current legal rights associated with marriage. But you wouldn't be married, you'd have a civil union. The religious aspects and morality issues would be left up to the church to determine. If your church lets gays marry, fine for you, if not, then find another church. The state would not discriminate and would allow civil unions for any committed couple who chose to do so.
So how does this work in reality? Essentially, the same as it does now, minus a step. In civil union world, you would go to the county recorder's office, obtain your civil union license, pay your money and consider yourself joined. Right now, you go to the office, get your license, have your church perform a ceremony and take it back to the county for filing. In our scenario, the church would still perform whatever ceremony you chose, without government interference or paperwork.
The best permanent solution to same-sex marriage is to simply remove religion from the process.
As for my husband and I? We would have chosen civil union anyway. I imagine many Americans would. Numerous studies and polls show that a majority of Americans do not attend church regularly. So let's leave the government out of marriage and truly separate church and state.
As an aside, New Zealand currently allows civil unions for heterosexual and same-sex couples. It does not appear to have ruined the country, destroyed morality or created a nation of heathens.