Meg Whitman: Save Marriage

(Originally posted on S.F. Gate on July 18, 2009)

Meg Whitman has a problem with our right to marry, but it’s not at all clear what that problem is.

The billionaire former eBay boss, now running as a Republican for governor, spoke to a gathering of “high-profile high-tech Silicon Valley women,” reported Chronicle columnist Leah Garchik. According to Garchik’s source, Whitman said she’d voted for Proposition 8, banning same-sex marriage, based on her religious convictions and her emotions.

Whitman added, as if to stake out an “above-the-fray” compromise position: “You know, I just wish there were one term for everything: civil unions.”

Here’s where I started getting lost, because there is currently

I won’t interfere in their religious affairs. I ask only that they don’t interfere in our civil affairs.

 “one term for everything.” It’s called “marriage.”

For some reason, Whitman apparently prefers her own “term for everything,” as a substitute for the one that has been universally recognized for ages, in this country and elsewhere.

Under Whitman’s system, Garchik reports, “government would grant civil licenses only. It would be up to individual churches to decide who they would marry.”

Again, that’s the current system exactly: Government grants civil licenses, called marriage licenses. They are civil documents only, with no religious significance whatsoever. If churches wish to perform their own rituals using the civil marriage license, they are welcome to, and most have chosen to do so. They are free to perform that ritual for any gender combinations they wish. Civil authorities have no right under the Constitution to control how churches use the civil license in their rituals.

Similarly, couples who wish to be married outside a church, using the same civil marriage license, are entitled to do so, receiving the same civil benefits and responsibilities as those who “consecrate” their marriages in a religious institution.

Whitman’s essential point seems to be that, although she wants to retain the nationally recognized civil license, she objects to it being called what it’s always been called: a marriage license. She apparently wants all of us who were married years ago, as well as those who will be married in the future, to change the name of the license that was or will be issued for us. Why? Is she trying to disrupt traditional marriages like mine by changing the name of the license that first bound us 
 legally and gave us and our children certain civil rights, privileges and obligations?

If any religious denominations want to discriminate against same-sex couples in their religious rituals, that is their right. However, it is everyone’s right, including same-sex couples, to have equal access to the same civil marriage license that my wife and I had when we were married 38 years ago.

I see no reason why churches should be allowed to expropriate for their exclusive use the term that civil authorities have used for their license for centuries: a marriage license. If that name is too tainted for people in Whitman’s church, they are free to change the name they use in their rituals. “Holy matrimony,” perhaps? Whatever; it’s their choice. I won’t interfere in their religious affairs. I ask only that they don’t interfere in our civil affairs.

“Render unto Caesar …”

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