Marriage and the Republican Party
The Nevada Republican Party recently removed from its platform references to gay marriage and abortion, two divisive social issues.
The response from Carolyn L. McLarty, the Republican National Committeewoman for Oklahoma was swift and negative. She slammed Nevada’s actions and urged party leaders not to allow other state parties to take similar actions.
McLarty went on to write, “The Nevada GOP action to remove marriage and life from their platform is a disgrace. The move does nothing to unify the Republican Party. Republicans will continue to lose elections if we can’t even stand for protecting the most vulnerable lives among us; or for keeping sacred five thousand plus years of natural human sexuality. Both are direct attacks on God and the family.”
I will address the abortion issue in a future writing. But right now I am going to tackle the so-called “gay marriage” issue and suggest the direction that the Republican Party should take if they want to appeal to those on the right and left wings of the political spectrum who truly believe in freedom and limited government.
Marriage is an ancient institution that predates recorded history and was seen as a strategic alliance between families. In the Bible, the forefathers Isaac and Jacob married cousins and Abraham married his half-sister.
Monogamy may seem central to marriage now, but in fact, polygamy was common throughout history and Biblical men often had anywhere from two to thousands of wives. Monogamy did not become the guiding principle for Western marriages until sometime between the sixth and the ninth centuries.
Marriages in the West were originally contracts between the families of two partners, with the Catholic Church and the state staying out of it until 1215 when the Catholic Church decreed that partners had to publicly post notices of an impending marriage in a local parish, to cut down on the frequency of invalid marriages (the Church eliminated that requirement in the 1980s).
In the last several hundred years, the state has played a greater role in marriage. For instance, Massachusetts began requiring marriage licenses in 1639, and by the 19th-century marriage licenses were common in the United States.
By the 17th century, many of the Protestant European countries had an informal state involvement in marriage.
The Clandestine Marriage Act of 1753, popularly known as Lord Hardwicke’s Act, marked the official beginning of state involvement in marriage in England.
The Marriage Act of 1836 allowed for non-religious civil marriages to be held in register offices. These were set up in towns and cities across England and Wales. The act also meant nonconformists and Catholic couples could marry in their own places of worship, according to their own rites.
In Germany, civil marriages were recognized in 1875.
Today many European and Latin American countries require a religious ceremony must be held separately from a required civil ceremony.
In the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, the Republic of Ireland, Norway and Spain both ceremonies can be held together. The person officiating at the religious and civil ceremony also serves as an agent of the state to perform the civil ceremony.
I mention all of this because the state of marriage – not just the definition – has changed over time. Marriage is not the same institution that it was for our biblical forefathers or as it was at the outset of Western Civilization.
Nevada GOP Chairman Michael McDonald has stated that modernizing the party to appeal to more voters is long overdue. He is correct. There is a formula that I believe the GOP should adopt that would appeal to a very large cross section of all political entities and at the same time eliminate internecine Republican squabbles.
Marriage should be taken out of the realm of government involvement. The states, counties and cities should not longer be involved in marriage and should no longer issue marriage licenses.
At the same time a national law (or, if need be a constitutional amendment) should be established to recognize the concept of civil unions that would apply to all couples, and couples only. A man and woman, two men or two women could apply to be registered as a civil union. The designation would allow for the same tax benefits, hospital visitation, inheritance or any other contractual benefits. This means that there would be no governmentally recognized benefits that would apply to one couple while being denied to another couple.
For those couples that want to get married, they would be free to seek out the spiritual leader of their choice. An orthodox rabbi would not marry two men or two women, but a more liberally minded reform rabbi certainly would. A Catholic priest would not marry same sex couples, but a more liberally minded Christian pastor certainly would. I emphasize that these more liberally minded clergy people would because many of them have already come out for what they call gay marriage.
The question of atheist couples getting married without a religious ceremony could also easily be addressed by having them seek out people who are registered with organizations such as the Universal Life Church who would perform the wedding without a religious designation but would include whatever the couple deems to be meaningful to them.
In other words, the meaning and significance of marriage would be up to the individual couples without the state getting involved in the definition of marriage. At the same time, civil unions would allow for all registered couples to access the same legal benefits.
The Republican Party has a history of opposing government regulation and state control of the individual. This is a chance for Republicans to walk the talk.
The Nevada Republican Party issued a statement that if the GOP wants to win elections, the party must stop emphasizing divisiveness and must re-emphasize the “core principles of freedom and limited government.” They are correct. Now Republicans must decide if they want to uphold those core principles or go the way of the Whig Party.