In recent times, the definition of marriage has become a very divisive issue. Long before the United States or the State of Minnesota existed, marriage was a religious institution. Currently, however, the state of Minnesota holds the authority to confer or withhold the status of “married” upon two individuals. This is a violation of the fundamental American principle of separation of church and state. Right now, gay rights activists see religious groups using the law to deny them civil rights. Religious groups see gay rights activists attempting to use the law to undermine the teaching of their faith regarding marriage. The problem exits because state law and religious institution unnecessarily overlap. I have drafted the following proposal in the hope of avoiding much of the inevitable conflict if marriage statutes remain as they currently are:
All references to “marriage” be removed from the laws of the state of Minnesota.
Domestic relationships relevant to legal matters would be defined by a schedule of domestic partnership (DP) classes:
Class A- adult has unilateral legal responsibility for another person. (i.e. child, mentally disabled adult)
Class B- two adults have mutual responsibility for each other. (i.e. married couples)
The responsibility for and definition of marriage would be deferred to religious or non-religious organizations. Marriage would become like Baptism or Eucharist- something that is very important to those who observe it, but defined and regulated by each religious (or social) organization- not the state of Minnesota.
The specific rights and responsibilities for each class of DP under this schedule would then be spelled out specifically according to pragmatic rationale.
The benefits that I see to this proposal are as follows:
Healthier separation of church and state. The state would not be in a position to define marriage in a way that is contrary to the religious beliefs of some people.
There is no sexual context to a legal domestic partnership. Any two adults that can meet the requirements for a Class B could apply for this status regardless of their personal reasons for doing so. A parent and child living together would usually have a Class A partnership. An adult child and parent living together could have a Class B partnership. A married couple could have a Class B partnership, while another married couple could find that it suited their needs better not to have a Class B. A homosexual couple, or unmarried heterosexual couple could also choose (or not choose) to enter a Class B. A Class B couple could choose for practical reasons to dissolve their legal DP status without any bearing on the status of their personal relationship with their DP.
More equitable access to civil rights. No people will be discriminated against by the State based on marital status (or denied marital status), because marital status is no longer legally meaningful. Currently a legally married spouse has de facto authority to make decisions on behalf of the other spouse, rights to their property, access to their personal information and affairs. The law now makes no provision for a person other than a legal spouse to be granted this authority. It is unjust that these rights are denied to competant individuals who wish to grant another person this legal authority.
Better health care options for DP's that are not currently legally recognized.
Divorce could become cleaner. Along with DP application, a standard DP dissolution agreement could also be required. A standardized dissolution process could cut down some of the current legal wrangling over divorce cases.
More meaningful marriage. For persons married in a community (faith-based or non-religious), that community would now be solely responsible for granting that marriage, upholding it, and, if necessary, dissolving it. There will no longer be any ambiguity over where the authority over marriage lies. (i.e. My own marriage was pronounced “. . .by the power vested in me as a minister of the Gospel of Jesus Christ and the laws of the state of Minnesota. . .)
Legal DP classes could be added in the future as needed without disturbing those already established.
Possible drawbacks/opposition to this proposal:
Marriage/marital status is referenced in many laws and legal documents.
The fear of “gay marriage” becoming legal is a powerful tool in the arsenal of conservative politicians, which they would lose if this proposal was enacted.
Divorce attorneys could lose business if marriage was no longer legally relevant.
More people would potentially be eligible for coverage under a DP's health care plan, which could mean more expense for insurance companies.