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A discussion at a friend's blog last week has led me to do some reading and a lot of thinking about the issue of creating civil unions or expanding the legal definition of marriage. At the moment, I'm still trying to get a relatively good understanding of the issues and arguments involved, and I thought readers here might be able to help.
There are a number of issues that changes in the definition or status of various relationships would attempt to resolve. To my understanding, they basically fall into the following categories:
- Adoption and parenting rights.
- Tax issues.
- Next-of-kin issues such as medical decisions and access to information, visitation in hospitals and jails, inheritance and property rights.
- Immigration and citizenship issues.
- Medical insurance and other employer-provided spousal/dependent benefits.
- Criteria for hiring or providing services to various people. (For instance, whether privately-owned companies or churches should be required to provide adoption services, employment, marriage ceremonies, housing, and other services or benefits without regard for a person's marital status/lifestyle choice/gender/sexual orientation).
What types of organizations, goods and services would fall under such laws and how they would be applied is not really clear to me, although I know there are many cases being argued about these types of issues.
So far I'm aware of a few different approaches that have been suggested to address these issues:
- Leave things the way they are. (This probably isn't a viable option, since case after case is already being challenged in court and many people are trying to pass various laws pushing things one way or the other.)
- Change the legal definition of marriage so that it applies equally to all adults regardless of gender.
This may or may not limit marriages to only two people or maintain current prohibitions against marriage between relatives, etc. (There are those who would like to also do away with requirements that marriage partners be limited to adults only or to human beings only, but I think that goes beyond the scope of this discussion.)
- Expand who would be able to take part in legally-recognized marriage while at the same time tightening the laws surrounding marriage itself, making it more difficult to enter or exit lightly.
Some ideas that have been suggested include mandatory premarital and/or pre-divorce counseling, doing away with the option of relatively quick and easy no-fault divorce, imposing some sort of disincentive against adultery (such as putting the offending partner at a disadvantage in divorce settlement proceedings), adding some sort of waiting period or restriction regarding remarriage after divorce, etc.
This is a compromise that has been suggested, but hasn't been discussed much to date. [Thanks to Mark for the referral to the linked post, which is an interesting one.]
- Legally define marriage as a union between one man and one woman, while most likely creating a status of civil union or some similar entity (which may or may not be equal to marriage in terms of rights, responsibilities and benefits).
- Take the regulation of marriage completely or mostly out of the government's hands. Let marriage revert to being primarily a religious institution with no or very minimal state-imposed restrictions, definition, benefits or incentives.
At the same time, create a new type of government-regulated system in which people could register as a family unit or domestic partnership. This new entity would have the benefits and incentives currently connected with marriage, and would apply to all genders and long-term committed relationships equally.
This may or may not require a sexual relationship at all, but could potentially include such variations as two people covenanting to form a long-term platonic partnership for the purpose of raising a child together. This type of union could potentially exist without any requirements pertaining to gender, marital status or romantic elements to the relationship. Again, it might include family units containing more than two adults or it could be limited to two adults, depending on how the laws and regulations played out.
- Approach each problem separately, enacting laws or policies to deal with each issue as it arises.
For instance, one example might be to pass a law allowing single and multiple-parent adoptions and requiring them to be recognized in all states. Such a measure could be completely independent of regulations and laws governing marriage and gender issues, and/or could coexist with laws defining marriage.
Am I missing anything major? I'd be interested to hear any other suggestions or discussion of the pros and cons of the various approaches.
Feel free to take one of the numbered or lettered points, or an alternative suggestion, and write a post or comment exploring the pros and cons of it or explaining it further. If you're not a contributing author of this blog you can either post a link here back to the relevant post on your own blog, or just use the comments section here to add your voice to the discussion.
I'd like to also start another discussion soon dealing specifically with church, religious and moral attitudes toward homosexuality and homosexual individuals. I think that's a somewhat separate, though related, topic.