Essentially the actual matter of the debate is a redefinition of State unions to include same gender couples. Surely then, the most sensible and logical solution is for the State to adopt a homogeneous term like “Union” or “Partnership” and apply it across the board to refer to any couple’s Civilly registered commitment, irrespective of the make-up of the couple? In other words, drop the use of the word “marriage” which, as everyone surely knows and can be proved by picking up any dictionary or encyclopedia, and has for thousands of years, means “between a man and a woman”? Why is that so difficult?
Ironically of course, those who want “equality” don’t understand that the opposition is actually about the redefinition of a word, more than it is necessarily about same gender couples making a Civil commitment. That said, some of the opposition have allowed themselves to be confused too and both sides have become polarised as a result.
In fact it would make life a whole lot easier for “marriage” to remain a term used religiously to mean the union of a man and a woman by a religious ceremony. Indeed, the State could license religious ministers to perform solely religious marriages and not Civil Unions – thereby avoiding the whole CofE objection. Then those who wanted a Civil Union blessed could do so if the religion they belong to does such a thing. It would mean then, simply, that the State would recognise religious marriages as performed by religious ministers and State Unions as performed by Civil Registrars. Nothing could be simpler surely?
In this way the whole “religious/secular” divide is nicely avoided and the public debate becomes more rationalised and less polarised… in fact it becomes negated. Of course, it would mean society getting used to using another term for State recognised commitment – like the word “Union” or “Partnership” – but that would be a lot easier than allowing confusion to reign by using a term historically, internationally and cross-culturally understood to mean a heterosexual couple i.e. marriage.
Clouding the issue has been the subjective quality of “love” and of a State institution’s recognition of that love. But in fact, “love” has pretty much nothing to do with the State’s recognition of a couple’s commitment, it may indeed be (and one would think) the reason why two people wish to commit to each other, but legally it doesn’t figure. “Love” afterall is a subjective emotion. State unions are about a public, legally recognised contract of commitment between two people, and that can be irrespective of the gender make-up of the couple.
If there is a discrepancy at the moment between “Civil Marriage” and “Civil Partnership” that can be addressed at the same time as changing the State’s terminology. There is no need for such discrepancies to exist if the State wishes to give equal rights and status to committed couples irrespective of who they are.
As for the religious debate about same gender unions… well, that is and should be a debate for the internal forum. From a Christian/Catholic viewpoint, I can’t find, and believe me I’ve tried, a convincing theological argument. Afterall, its about the sanctioning of sexual intimacy without the propensity of pro-creation, which has always been the Church’s general understanding of the purpose of holy matrimony. The Church has always condemned sexual intimacy outside of marriage and that applies irrespective of sexuality. There is perhaps a lot of work to be done on this subject theologically and I mean better than the heterodox suggestions that have abounded in the last forty years… we need a more comprehensive theology of the gift of human sexuality and the expression of it. Its an “icky” area admittedly, but one that is important centrally to our understanding of the human condition and of human relationships and our relationship with God. Bl. John Paul II’s “Theology of the Body” is pretty comprehensive, but still doesn’t provide an answer that encapsulates all the areas of this debate… Thinking caps on!