Thingish Things

Managing the “M” Word

Written By: William F. B. O'Reilly - Jun• 07•11

A former business partner finished a thought for me over lunch yesterday, a not unusual occurrence when we get together. (Spend 10 years in a small office with someone and residual mind meld is inescapable.)

It was about the gay marriage issue in New York — whether there is some middle ground where a large majority of New Yorkers, and their representatives in Albany, can agree. What I was flirting with, she already had formalized in her head.

We raised the topic because gay marriage continues to look tenuous in New York. The New York State Catholic Conference and the Conservative Party strongly oppose the legislation and they remain considerable forces in the state. Advocates for gay marriage appear to be several votes short as a result.

The major hang up over the issue, for most people, continues to be the word “marriage.”  Anything short of it is insufficient for those advocating equal treatment under the law, and most of those opposing gay marriage — most, not all — are willing to accept “civil unions” for same-sex couples, extending every legal benefit married heterosexual couples enjoy. It’s the “M” word to which they and their representative legislators viscerally object.

So what if the word “marriage” was stripped out of civil marriages in New York State?  Say instead of receiving a “marriage license”, one received a “certificate of civil union” or something along those lines. It would be the exact same thing legally, it would just officially be called something else. And isn’t that really what state-sanctioned marriages are, civil unions?

Churches and synagogues would go on using the word “marriage” in their matrimonial ceremonies — this has nothing to do with religious marriage sacraments — but New York State government would not. Marriage for church. Civil unions for state. Officially.

One would be free, of course, to call the status imbued by said certificate of civil union anything he or she wants. But New York State would view the document only for what it is — a legal contract between two people. I, for one, would view that document as no less valid a marriage license than the one I have today –I would call it that – but if it would ease the way to grant others the same legal benefits I enjoy in this state, I’d be happy to sacrifice the word on the certificate.

Vows are to God anyway. Not the City Clerk.

I’m sure some people would hate this idea.  But it’s an idea nevertheless, and maybe one worth discussing if the current legislation goes nowhere.



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  1. Your Friend says:

    I won’t say I hate it, it’s certainly a step in the right direction, but it smacks of Jim Crow to me. Not to be too harsh about it, but can’t you hear the echoes of “spearate but equal” in this idea?

  2. Me says:

    Sounds like a good plan to me.

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