February 4th, 2011

gay marriage news + reflections on marriage + music

Two interesting stories in the news this morning.

Illinois governor signs civil unions bill"
France upholds ban on gay couples"

Essentially, civil unions are now available in Chicagoland, which is a step in the right direction. Civil unions have been legal in France since 1999; that article is reporting that the French chose not to extend marriage to rights to gay couples. Apparently being married is legally different (as in: aside from church considerations) than having a civil union there.

First off, good on Illinois. This is an important step in the right direction.

What really interested me, though, is what the word marriage signifies in different cultures. I'm teaching the a priori/a posteriori divide in a few hours, so maybe the idea of definitions is just on my mind more than it usually would be. But I was struck by the way marriage was described in both contexts.

As an American, I typically think of civil union as marriage without the church. Of course, "separate but equal" went the way of different water fountains before I was ever born, and so I'm against the idea of one kind of union for heterosexuals and another for homosexuals. And I'm not blind to the practicalities. With our patchwork quilt of laws referring to marriage, there will be some civil laws referring to marriage and if you're not married you don't get the benefit of that law.

All that said, in an ideal world I tend to think marriage would be a "top-up" for the religiously inclined. Both hetero- and homosexuals would register with a civil union from the government and that would give them all the rights today enjoyed by married heterosexuals. Marriage on the other hand would be a totally separate institution, a sacrament administered by the church where secular law was not affected. This doesn't mean churches would be right in restricting it to different-sex couples. I personally believe that, if you think marriage is important to human well-being and if you think a religiously-approved ceremony is important to centering that relationship on God (i.e. a wedding is more than just an excuse to party), then the church needs to reevaluate its stance on gay marriage anyway. But this should be a theological decision, and ideally not tied up with politics and civil rights.

That's what intrigued me so much about the France case. Apparently over there marriage is better than civil union in some way, so that same-sex couples might reasonably want to have a marriage even when they already can have a union. Given the *cough* not-so-central place religious institutions have in French society, I don't think they're talking about the kind of religious "top-up" view of marriage I described above. So, two questions for everyone:

  • Americans: Say I could do a search-and-replace on all federal, state and local law so that wherever the word marriage appears I changed it to civil union. Would that be acceptable? Put another way: setting aside the religious aspects, is there any difference between civil union and marriage?

  • Europeans: What's the difference between marriage and civil unions in France? Am I missing something? And perhaps more importantly, is it a good distinction? Should there be a difference between the two.

Apropos to this topic, I recently discovered a cover Sara Bareilles did of Beyonce's "Single Ladies." It's... interesting, musically. Really nice! Totally different from Beyonce's, but has a lot of soul and I think it's even more fascinating because of its difference from Beyonce's version.

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