Monday, June 27, 2011

Silent "Civil" Marriage Wins Loudly

With a triumphant shout from the gallery in the New York state senate Friday night, and the signing of the bill by Governor Cuomo on Saturday morning, New York state did something that only five other states and the District of Columbia have done so far - legalize same-sex civil marriage.

Note the use of the word "civil" in our comment. It's not a mistake or a typo. In fact, it's likely one of the most important words missing from the debate on same-sex marriage in the United States.

There has nearly always has been a separation between religious laws and the secular laws of America and most of its states. There have been those individuals, from time to time who have used the power of the government to inflict their religious codes on others. Over time, however, American law has always swung back (so far) to re-establish the important division between the two.

On the subject of marriage, there is a vast difference between "civil marriage" and " religious marriage." Because of that separation, the State has no ability to force religious institutions to acknowledge the actions of other religions - or even sub-factions of their own religion. This was a fact specifically acknowledged in the New York law.

The government DOES have the ability to regulate "civil marriage", however, as it's a specifically defined category of legal contract. Every type of contract has specific rules that govern its enforcement, from bilateral real estate contracts, to unilateral contracts of action; from inter-corporate contracts to that special kind of contract between two individuals that covers many different laws, levels, and specifications with one word: the marriage contract.

Civil marriage contracts are mostly agreements that cover personal property rights - things like death benefits, tax relief, and the rights to make medical decisions for one's partner. It's a very specific class of contract - and there is no separate or similar kind of contract that bestows the holder with the same rights anywhere in the U.S. or any of its states or territories.

Even in states where "civil unions" are allowed between same-sex couples, the rights of those individuals are not the same as those relationships acknowledged with a legal label of "marriage" by the state. There are over a thousand benefits on both the federal and state level that only married couples enjoy, while those under civil unions receive approximately about 300 similar benefits. Such stark differences further drive home the fact that separate is not equal.

If anyone has a problem with same-sex couples using the word "marriage" to define their legal status, we would be completely fine if that legal label was disallowed for gay couples - so long as it was also disallowed for straight couples, and a new label given that would apply to all couples, across the board.

Until then, bigots and ignorant folk are simply going to have to learn to hear the silent "civil" when gay couples speak of their marriages to each other.

For our part, we're very glad for our friends in New York as well as for Americans around the country who will soon be able to go to New York and enter into fully legal civil marriage contracts. [New York has NO residency requirement for marriage.]

Passing this law wasn't merely an honorable action for the New York state government. Economists also estimate that in the next three years, the boom in same-sex marriages in the Empire State will bring more than a quarter of a billion dollars in new revenue to their state. So this law not only helps America be more just - it may rapidly help America, and New York specifically, to generate more tax revenue AND more jobs.

More jobs and new sources of revenue for the government, in a time when America needs both so desperately, are things we think even the most hate-filled homophobes should eventually cheer for.

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