I had to laugh when I read this piece on 365gay.com:
No civil marriage for anybody? I have suggested this more than once, only to be told the fundies would jump on it with both feet and claim we’re really out to destroy marriage. I can’t help thinking that they’ll attack up no matter what we say; they’re attacking us now, despite the present positive, rights-seeking approach now being pursued.
As a practical matter of linguistics, I’m already hearing gay and lesbian couple refer to themselves as married. I’ve heard women say the phrase, “my wife,” and the sky hasn’t fallen. So for some people, the matter is already settled. “Civilly united,” just doesn’t roll off the tongue in quite the same way, does it?
I also hear from folks in more liberal/progressive religious denominations who don’t really like the fundies giving religion, or specifically Christianity, a bad name. They sometimes complain that the laws as they stand dictate their religious practices (a point with which I concur), but they don’t seem willing or able to assert themselves on the matter, much less take back the good name of religion. Some of my friends are Friends (aka Quakers), and disputing overtly with the likes of Dobson puts them off–almost as if it might violate their pacifist principles. (Besides, some Meetings aren’t as progressive as others.)
Having heard the disputes and the rancor, I like the idea of separating civil and religious marriage. After all, if we left it to the Pope, there’d be no divorce, which would seriously cramp the style of a lot of the family values crowd (Newt Gingrich leaps to mind.). The fact that we don’t (and haven’t for decades) suggests that people aren’t adverse to having these things handled outside a religious context.
Perhaps it made sense in the 19th century, especially in the West, where civil officials were few and far between, to have the local preacher do both marriages in one fell swoop–hence, “by the power vested in me by the State of–.” Despite the rise of numbers in the judiciary and the rest of government (like it or not), the power has stayed vested in the clergy. Call it inertia or laziness or whatever. Trouble is, matters have been thus conflated for so long it is difficult to distinguish the two.
If people can’t wrap their heads around the idea of a civil marriage distinct from religious marriage, perhaps the Maryland suggestion might have to be adopted.