Friday, July 11, 2003

Thoughts on the Federal Marriage Amendment

I have been reading a little about the FMA recently on the net. This strikes something of a chord because we have are having a related debate in the UK about proposals for civil unions in the UK for homosexual couples, and the repeal of a law known popularly as Section 28 that forbids the promoting of homosexuality in schools. However, I didn't really start thinking these thoughts until I considered the FMA.

It seems to be that both arguments for and against the FMA are just symptoms of the real problem: a deep confusion over what 'marriage' actually is. Is marriage a religious ritual? The answer is of course 'Yes'. However, many of the legal and financial 'advantages' of marriage have nothing to do with religion. And it is these 'advantages' that are really at the centre of the dispute - though the symbolism does have an importance as well.

What of the odd things about the US to my mind is how can so religious a country have a near absence of religion in its schools. Although it has been explained to be a number of times, and although intellectually I understand how this situation came about, on a gut level I simply don't 'get it'. There is that furore about the ruling against the Pledge of Allegiance that will be heard sometime in the future. All these things are about symbolic language, and of all the words in the English language 'marriage' must be both one of the most symbolic and one of the words most associated with religion. I cannot help but suspect that at some point various legal rulings will define the symbolism of this word in a legal sense in the US, and when and where it is an approrpriate or inappropriate word to use.

I suspect in the UK we will be seeing a greater definition between Civil Unions and Marriage in the coming years, especially as un-married heterosexual couples press for the same legal rights as married heterosexual couples. I think this would be the optimum way for the US to go as well, but I think there is little chance of that happening. The US remains too religious a society for this particular divorce between the secular and the religious.

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