Where's the Beef? No Reason to Oppose Civil Unions

As the July 6 veto deadline approaches, Gov. Linda Lingle must consider whether or not to sign HB444 into law. She is under pressure from both sides of the issue. On the one hand, proponents argue that the law must be updated to correct a long-standing injustice and to recognize the fact that sometimes couples form unions outside of holy matrimony. On the other side, opponents of civil unions argue that the law's impact on society at large is unacceptable. These opponents seek to create doubt and uncertainty about the law's impact.

Gov. Lingle herself has promoted the uncertainty, by claiming that what makes her decision difficult "is the intensity on the part of the public, that I don't know another bill that comes to that, its ability to impact the community on both sides." When asked, however, these opponents have a hard time articulating what those negative impacts might be.

To examine these claims, let's first recall that in the United States, religious institutions and their precepts do not have the force of law. Breaking a religious vow, for example, doesn't land you in prison. Being excommunicated doesn't mean your driver's license is revoked. And so on. At the same time, the law protects the rights of religious groups to practice their beliefs. This principle of separation of church and state is a bedrock principle of American democracy and is something we should all be proud of. So how does this apply to marriage?

If you've never been married, it may surprise you to learn that most people who marry in this country are actually "married" twice. First, they are married in the eyes of the law. And second, they are married in the eyes of their church. The word "marriage" is used to refer to both of these vows, which often causes confusion. One is a legally-binding commitment under the laws of the state. The other is a morally-binding commitment under the precepts of their religious beliefs.

Needless to say, the state has sole authority over the legally-binding union, and no authority over the religious union. And, the church has authority over the religious union, but no authority over the legal union.

All sorts of things can go wrong in a marriage, and the law provides for legal ways to handle divorce, property rights, parental obligations, etc. Family courts exist to arbitrate and judge the disputes that inevitably arise. For better or worse, family law has been arbitrating marriage disputes for a long time, and there is a large body of law and judicial decisions to rely upon.

Now, back to HB 444.

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