Separating Marriage And State

A Democratic State Senator in Maryland has come up with an idea that actually makes sense:

Advocates for same-sex marriage plan to introduce legislation in the Maryland General Assembly today that would abolish civil marriage ceremonies now confined to heterosexual unions in the state and replace them with domestic partnerships for all couples.

The bills represent an unusual new tactic in the effort to push legal rights for gay couples through the House and Senate during the legislature’s 90-day session. Sponsors of the measure say they are attempting to address head-on the concerns of lawmakers who oppose same-sex marriage on religious grounds.

Under their proposal, all couples — straight or gay — would be on equal footing with secular unions. Religious marriage in churches, synagogues and mosques would be unaffected, as would existing civil marriages.

The word “marriage” would be replaced with “valid domestic partnership” in the state’s family law code.

“If people want to maintain a religious test for marriage, let’s turn it into a religious institution,” said Sen. Jamie B. Raskin (D-Montgomery), the bill’s Senate sponsor.

This is exactly what I’ve been saying for years now (see here and here). Of course, the Republican opponents of gay marriage aren’t exactly lining up to support this:

“What they’re talking about is an even more radical departure from traditional marriage than even advocates for gay marriage are talking about,” said Del. Christopher B. Shank (R-Washington), the minority whip. “They’re creating a situation for one special interest group that basically diminishes the value of marriage for everyone else.”

Shank and other opponents say that same-sex unions defy religious convictions that marriage is between a man and a woman.

And nobody is saying that your church has to approve or consecrate same-sex unions. Heck, you could have a religion that said people with different hair colors if you wanted to, just don’t make it the business of the state to codify your religious prejudices.

Unfortunately, I doubt that this proposal will go anywhere, even in Maryland, but it’s refreshing to see that some people recognize that the only way to really solve the gay marriage debate is to get the government out of them marriage business completely.

  • KipEsquire

    Would such heterosexual couples still be allowed to file joint federal tax returns while gays cannot?

    If yes, then this proposal is meaningless.

    If no, then this proposal is DOA.

  • Doug Mataconis


    I can’t speak for the Maryland Senator, but in my mind if the state is going to recognize civil unions regardless of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual, then all such unions must receive the same benefit

  • Mark

    Doug- good catch. This is something I also have been advocating for many years since it separates civil “marriage” from the religious institution.

  • Justin Bowen

    A better bill would be to take the state out of all matters relating to marriage. Let people get power of attorney agreements and start writing wills and pre-cohabitation agreements. If the state was totally silent on the entire issue then it would become a non-issue. Of course, that has as much likelihood of happening as the passage of this bill.

  • Nitroadict

    This sounds excellent, thanks for catching this, this sounds promising if it get’s passed.

    Although, living in MD right now, I would really appreciate it if they also lowered the sales tax back to 5%, if not something lower (it was recently raised to 6%) :\ .

  • Quincy

    Justin Bowen –

    I agree with your long-term solution, but this seems like a valuable first step towards that goal. It’s one of those times that we have to appreciate small steps in the right direction.

  • Justin Bowen

    Oh, no doubt. Most “good” advancements of the past and present (in terms of civil rights) have happened incrementally. Now, if we could only get the men’s rights, women’s rights, minorities rights, and gay rights groups on the same page we’d all be much happier.

  • Quincy

    Justin –

    That’s not likely to happen as long as there are “men’s rights, women’s rights, minorities rights, and gay rights groups”. Each of these will fight for their own interests at the expense of the others.

    What we need to do, as libertarians, is focus on fighting for a system that will benefit all people through maximum freedom and minimal government interference. That’s what I like about this bill.