Social structure has survived well for at least a few millennia with the good old fashioned so called nuclear family at its core. But in our day this paradigm has been questioned by some, though a minority, who seem to threaten this age-old arrangement. The truth is that the fear felt in the hearts of many over this is mainly based upon the concern that this is a religious issue.
In studying the development of social order throughout time it can be easily seen that most social groups, whether they be villages, tribes, or empires, have as a part of their foundation some common set of convictions about things spiritual. Because of this, all too often this religion becomes integrated with the system of social order. In a word it is codified as the law of the land and one then has a “state church”.
Western nations for the past 2000 years have been largely populated by people professing some form of Christianity. Therefore by and large the laws of these nations are derived from biblical sources. This is mostly a good thing except when a particular law prohibits the free exercise of a non-Christian’s religion or infringes upon the rights of those who do not adhere to the same set of social norms defined in these laws regardless of the individual’s religious convictions.
The framers of the US constitutions tried to take a step away from this practice by giving us the first clause of the first amendment to the constitution. By the way this does not say that there shall be a wall of separation between the church and state; nor synagogue and state nor any other religious congregation. What it does say is “congress shall make no law respecting the establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. There is no need to guess what they meant by this; most of the members of the constitutional convention were quite vocal about their religious views. Thus, it cannot be construed that they were pushing for an utter absence of religious expression in public. Just that there would be no state sponsored religion in general and no state approved Christian denomination in particular.
Of course, most of the people in the colonies that became the United States were some brand of Christian and so the municipal and state or common wealth codes included statutes that were clearly based upon the then current interpretation of Christian standards.
This brings us to the matter of laws concerning the aforementioned nuclear family. The codes generally stated that a man and a woman would be married by a parson in a church and remain so for life. Whether this is an accurate application of New Testament doctrine is open to individual interpretation. Be that as it may it is very likely that not all of the 85% of our population who claim to be Christians are in agreement with that. And certainly, those of other faiths could have other convictions. In the end there can be seen a need to standardize the various codes to allow for this variety of standards.
If we look at a nuclear family as something other than a “Christian home” (or whatever faith system applies) we will see that without the religious element it is nothing more or less than the current definition of a domestic partnership or civil union. A man and a woman might live together for a specific amount of time and then be considered married by common law but again they appear to be in the same state of social arrangement. In the end the law always seems to fall back to the standards of a particular religious tenet.
What needs to be done is to take the next step that perhaps the framers of the US constitution could not take (nor even dreamed of at the time); to truly administer our social order without mandating a particular set of religious convictions yet still provide for the protection of the individuals rights.
Many believe that a domestic partnership, whether called marriage or otherwise, can only be between one man and one woman. Others believe that it can also be between two men or two women. Then there are those that believe it can be between one man and multiple women. Still other would say that it can be between one woman and multiple men. I am not aware of anybody who believes this, but it is entirely possible that there are some who believe that it is acceptable to have such a relationship between two or more men and two or more women.
What I wish to point out is that I use the word “believe”. I do not say “think” or “want” but that they believe. This must mean that it is a matter of their individual faith. And since the constitution does not allow the congress or any other governing body of the states or people to prescribe or prohibit religious convictions or practice it stands to reason that there should be no law that prohibits any of these types of social arrangements.
What we need are codes that provide protection for those who enter into a domestic partnership in much the same way that they now protect those who get married. Marriage should then be a matter of religious convictions and practices and not of law. Then a couple, or what have you, would secure the appropriate legal documentation registered with the local municipal court of record giving official countenance to the relationship. After that they could have whatever ceremony they desire or as required by their respective faith practice. At the end of this rite the officiating minister would omit the current “... by the power vested in me by the common wealth of Virginia I now pronounce you ...” since he or she would no longer be serving in the capacity of a government official but merely a religious leader.
At this time there are very few places where anything like this is codified though many US corporations recognize such relationships and provide benefits for the dependents of their employees without the requirement of a marriage certificate.
This brings up an additional issue that ought to be considered. There are many cases where an individual must care for a family member who is physically or otherwise impaired to the point of being incapable of caring for himself/herself. The right thing to do would be for the family and/or friends of this individual to step in and provide whatever care is necessary. Yes, there are many forms of public assistance available but none of these are sufficient to provide all of the needs. This can and often does result in the individual relegated to street life. In such a case it should be legal for a friend or family member to provide subsistence and housing for the individual while also claiming them as a tax deduction and as a dependent on any work-related benefits. This relationship would be documented with the local municipal court of records as a “domestic dependent”. The legal document would provide the necessary protections for each signatory party.
The time has come to accept our existing social order and make it law.