Just yesterday, Connecticut gave final approval to same-sex civil unions after a close bipartisan vote in the state house. This makes Connecticut the first state in the country to do so without judicial urging. Anne Stanback, president of an advocacy group for same-sex marriage within the state, said she was “very proud to live in Connecticut today” after the bill originally passed the state senate.

Republican Governor Jodi Rell signed this law into effect. However, an amendment to derail the bill – a line that echoes the federal Defense of Marriage Act by defining marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman – added on in the house has to be approved by the senate as well.

Without falling into the labyrinthine pit of local Connecticut politics, if passed, the process promises to set a national precedent of approaching this contentious matter through a spirit of compromise. Openly gay lawmakers like state senator Andrew MacDonald had to make a painful decision to compromise on civil unions — which will confer all the same state benefits as marriage, only by a different name – despite some opposition amongst his own supporters that anything short of recognition of gay unions as marriages was an inequity, despite the increased legal protections of civil unions.

Yet, MacDonald recognized that even in a state with as liberal sentiments as Connecticut, which has shown solid polling support for civil unions, a majority still consistently opposed same-sex marriage. He, like many gay-rights groups in the state, took these political considerations in stride and urged fellow Democrats to vote in favor. Meanwhile, moderate Republicans faced angry supporters from the more religious, “values”-oriented wing of their party. What makes Connecticut’s situation so provocative?

A good compromise is often said to be one where no one really gets what they want. There is a compromise so good that I am positive it will never gain any meaningful support whatsoever. Perhaps the best solution to this nationally contentious issue is to strike the word marriage from every lawbook in the land and scribble “civil unions” in its place.

My theory is that government sponsorship of “marriage” is, in a sense, anachronistic, a vestige of a more culturally homogenous, less-differentiated nation that did not foresee the legal conferment of marriage as possibly connected to their own debate about the separation of church and state.

Marriage, despite a long history as a contractual arrangement that had more to do with money and property than personal feeling, has today for many a sensitive, primarily religious connotation. We hear that marriage is a sacrament and that it is an institution woven into the very fabric of our communities’ social customs. That only leads me to ask what business government has in marriage beyond tangible concerns of property, custody, inheritance and the like.

Furthermore, if marriage is so inextricably woven into the our cultural consciousness, what harm could be done by removing the government’s overbearing patriarchy? Government ought to abandon the value-laden word “marriage,” become blind to terms of “straight” or “gay” and commit itself fully to equal protection under the law for all individuals. The government should forebear moral judgment or censure on all matters that concern individual pursuits of happiness – that’s an American value.

So, when it comes to replacing the word “marriage” with the phrase “civil unions” for all people, what’s the significance of a word? Plenty, unfortunately.

Although this argument may seem like so much semantics, this attention to detail appears to be the sad case for my fellow Nutmeggers and Americans in general. As polls consistently show, people generally support the fundamental fairness of giving gay couples in this country the same and necessary legal rights that heterosexual couples enjoy, but feel that marriage must remain “between a man and a woman.”

The fact is, no matter what your beliefs are, you probably resent the government telling you what makes a marriage. However, that’s precisely what most Americans want government to do.

For all those who fear that this change of words would damage the collective culture or society, ask yourselves, “does a piece of paper from the government that says ‘you’re married’ make you feel more committed than the vows you said openly in front of witnesses in church, the symbolic ring or the day-to-day joys of married life?” As for those who might accuse me of preferring to allow no one to marry than allowing gay couples to marry, I ask the same question I would ask heterosexual couples – how much more does government sanctioning and using the word “marriage” mean to you – more, than the strength of your own feelings and opinions and the satisfaction that your rights as citizens are the exact equal of all others?

Some may accuse this compromise as abdicating responsibility on one of the greatest moral issue of our time, but those who do so are admitting that this is both a moral matter – not one of equal adjudication of current laws – and that they want the government to decide an issue that I argue is an area of private life. I object to allowing any government – especially a fickle, democratic one – power to lay any claim over how and who we as individuals might consentingly associate ourselves – even if doing so in the name of empowerment.

Giving the government the mere ability to set a precedent for future abuse or restriction. We ought to do what will please no one, make civil unions available to all and leave the business of marriage to churches, private individuals, close friends, communities and families or however people wish it.

The worst thing that can come of this issue are judicial fiats that turn gay marriage, a case ripe for meaningful compromise, into becoming just another abortion-esque wedge issue whereby all Americans lose to politicians and corporations who can play divide and conquer with America’s poor and middle classes.

Ellis can be reached at wellis@campustimes.org.



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