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What if "civil union" (and the related benefits/rights) were regulated by the government and "marriage" regulated by individual religions?

The essential social problem: Gays do not currently have the same rights and benefits as heterosexuals in the U.S. This is an issue of inequality. Also, states currently have the power to regulate marriage, so some states may offer equality (in this area) and others may not.

One possible solution: That "marriage" be taken out of the government's hands and put solely into the hands of individual churches/religions, and "civil unions" be regulated by the federal government (with the laws being the same for every state, and the rights/benefits being equal for every civl union). And the government could obviously still define a civil union as something like "2 consenting adults."

A consenting 100-year-old man can marry a consenting 18-year old woman (regardless of the motivation of either party). An intoxicated, irrational, yet "consenting" man and woman, who are strangers, can be married by "Elvis" in Vegas. So why would two responsible men who are committed to each other, care for each other, and likely support each other (financially and otherwise), be denied the same rights and benefits as those couples?

It seems to me that equality can be created in our country, while still respecting all religions.

I'm just wondering why this option hasn't been looked at more by politicians, activists, or interested citizens... Am a missing something?

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    Nov 9 2011: Bang on! I love this idea. It has great merit in firmly allowing people to establish the type of union that they want or need. It also gets the State out of religious issues and gives all people the human rights they deserve.

    I just realized that there might be a serious down side. Would this mean that the church or religion would then have jurisdiction in the event of marital breakdown? I am not willing to allow my 'sisters' in any religion to be subject to religiously run committees or bodies which could impose Shiriah law or any other religious laws in those events. YIKES! I like the human rights and greater justice for women that arises out of our regular system for divorces even though they are far from perfect.
    • Nov 9 2011: From what I understand, that is already how it works...If you get a civil marriage that is regulated by the state, but your religious marriage is still regulated by your religion. A "civil marriage" can be terminated with divorce/annulment but the religious marriage in some religions is not terminated in the eyes of their church until it is dealt with by the church in their own way (I'm thinking Orthodox Jew, Mormon temple marriage, etc.)... So if you have a problem with how a certain religion deals with divorce then maybe you shouldn't get married by that church... You choose your religion and you choose what church marry's you, so that would be up to the individual. So it wouldn't really be different (in that way) with what I proposed, the main difference would be the language - government would only offer "civil union" and it would be available to any 2 consenting adults, and religions could offer "marriage" they same way they always have. Right?

      I appreciate your comments. I'm actually writing a policy paper on this right now and am very interested in uncovering any possible holes in this option.
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        Nov 9 2011: Hi Tara!
        I am delighted to know that you are doing so much research and are willing to let the TED community share in it. The problem is Tara, with the divorce issue that many factors go into a woman being married under a religious system. My worry is that young women will marry in their faith system and not register for civil unions. This might be entirely unlikely though. We all marry believing it will last forever and I would have married under the strictest edicts of faith at the time of my 28 year marriage. I was fully under the influence of my religious system and my familial wishes. I am glad, however, that when it came to my ultimate divorce that I was under the jurisdiction of civil courts. Women in certain faiths must return to their brothers or father who are ashamed of them when they divorce. They leave their marriages with nothing- not even their children because they 'belong' to the father. It does not matter if they were entirely faithful or if the husband was abusive.

        I might be worrying for nothing but I sure want women to have better and fairer protection than some religious communities provide. I do not want the hard won gains of equality and fairness to be lost. I do not want them to lose their rights because of any loopholes.
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    Nov 9 2011: I've fully supported this option for years. It respects marriage, separates church and state, legalizes gay marriage, while still honoring each religion's freedom to practice its beliefs. It makes sense to me. When I pose this question the response is it's not good enough. It's a human rights issue, and those fighting for their right to marry want it to be compulsory. This demand, in turn, negates freedom of religion. Definitely a challenge.

    If all marriages were legalized by a civil process and attended the church of their choice for the spiritual ceremony, it sounds like a win/win honoring what's most important for all involved. Some simply deny it's validity because they think the civil union will water down the sanctity of marriage - which makes no sense since the paperwork is done either way. I think it's a paradigm needing some time to shift. An idea whose time is almost here...
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    Nov 9 2011: A thoughtful question . . .a religious marriage would need to apply for the rights of a civil union with your proposal, no? And if the religious marriage were more than two, then what?