You may be wondering what I am talking about. At the moment everyone is considering only two of the options in the gay marriage debate: the status quo or gay marriage but there is a third option. The third option is simple, stripping the state of the right to conduct marriage ceremonies and replacing marriage ceremonies with equal civil partnerships. The institution of marriage is older than the British state, or any state, and goes back more than 2000 years before the start of Christianity. You may then wonder why any group believes they have a monopoly on it.
The question, why does the state conduct marriages in the first place, is a question which must be answered. The history of the state recognising marriages in the UK starts off in 1753 when only Quaker, C of E and Jewish Marriages were recognised and they were not (apart from in the case of the C of E) conducted by the state. The idea of civil marriage as opposed to Religious marriages recognised by the state is even more recent, dating only to 1836 and was originally there in order to accommodate Roman Catholics and Non-conformists who did not before then have their marriages legally recognised. This over time changed so that all marriages were recognised whether the marriage had any religious meaning or not.
So first marriages were conducted by the state church, then they were made civil to accommodate dissenters, and then over a period of time lost all religious element whatsoever. They were recognised by the state originally to stop clandestine (secret) marriages, i.e. marriages where a licence or banns(prior notice so people could object to the marriage if they wished) had not been issued and where parents approval was not needed, or witnesses present. Over time the purposes changed with the protection of both partners and tax also becoming reasons for the state recognising marriage. The marriage act didn't cover Scotland and so the tradition of people eloping to Gretna Green to marry when parental approval could not be found began. This weird organic history is how marriage moved from the state church to then being legally recognised and protected by the state to become civil marriage and then over time including those non-religious in nature.
Marriage is a word but to many it is much, much more. It is a commitment to a loved one, a wife or a husband to be together forever. It is a promise made to each other before friends and family and for many before God, to always be there for each other regardless of whether times are good or bad, to care for each other in sickness, to rejoice in the goodness of life, and to cherish every moment they share together. It is seen by many to be a cornerstone of society, the glue which binds us all together. It is for this reason that people want to be able to call themselves married, rather than partners, they want to say we share this same love, this same institution.
Gay marriage for many is not acceptable, they believe marriage is between husband (male) and wife (female) is consecrated in marital sex, where two become one. Marriage is important and they want to protect it, keep it within its traditional bounds. Some may say these people are just old fashioned but the fact is that every time the issue of whether to keep the word marriage or change it has came to a vote in a referendum, change has lost out. The current fashion globally hasn't shifted in favour of gay marriage, however, politically in the west gay marriage is being increasingly recognised, it is recognised throughout Scandinavia, and from Spain through to Belgium (France from 2013) and in Holland.
The gay marriage argument is simple; the state is secular so should take no notice of religious opposition to gay marriage, it should treat everyone the same and it isn't until gay marriage is recognised. To be secular however means to be free from any religion or belief system and does not require a state to take a liberal world view. Therefore to be secular doesn't mean to be for gay marriage or against it. If at the core of the argument is the notion of treating everyone the same, those against gay marriage would simply argue gay relationships are different from straight relationships. Gay marriage can not be consecrated in the same sense as straight marriage and the vocabulary of husband and wife doesn't easily fit to it as these are gender specific terms (just as bachelor is a gender specific term). The argument in favour of gay marriage is not one that is about rejecting religious hold on the state, it is about a particular world view which states that all 'loving' relationships have equal worth being adopted by the state. This doesn't diminish the argument it simply changes it, it is about saying there is no difference in value between my relationship with my partner and yours with your husband and the state should recognise that. Those against gay marriage therefore believe that it is not the same thing and should not be recognised.
Some people say there will come a time when all people see homosexual relationships (and for that matter in many cases all 'loving' relationships including, threesomes, polygamous relationships etc.) as equal to the traditional heterosexual monogamous relationship. I think these people are kidding themselves. There will always be people who believe that marriage is solely between a man and a woman and those who believe it isn't, there will be those who say all 'loving' relationships are fine even when it involves a multiplicity of sexual partners, and others who insist on monogamy. People who argue that a certain type of relationship is best will continue to attempt to persuade everyone they are right and those who believe all or many kinds of relationships are fine will try and persuade others they are right. This is a battle of ideas and one which will not be put to bed by legalising gay marriage or not legalising it, the debate will continue within communities, families and internally for people here and round the world.
But can a solution be found which takes the politics out of the debate a solution which recognises it is ultimately society, communities and families who decide what relationships are acceptable not the state. I believe it can and it is a solution which hasn't been discussed as of yet.
The solution is to scrap marriage. Not the term or the institution, in its traditional or non-traditional form, but in its legal form. Civil partnerships are currently reserved to homosexual relationships, but they could be extended to straight partnerships. The state would therefore be supporting life long monogamous relationships, gay or straight. Marriages have only been a state affair for a few hundred years. Before that they were a community affair, partners were recognised by the communities, in the communities, often in a church which was often the focal point of the community. We should allow the people decide and allow the debate to become about each community and family not about whether the Westminster elite have decided X or Y.
The Church of England officially is responsible for all state marriages, and apart from its many church schools, marriage is its most evident relationship to the state. Breaking this link is something the Church of England may want to reject. For a state church any movement away from its bonds with the state can be a scary prospect, but the time has come. State and church is a bond which will be broken and has been broken, or for many churches never existed. The church is not subservient to the state nor is it part of it but rather it is the body of Christ on earth. It is the priesthood of all believers, a family united in faith in Christ. The Queen is officially the head of the Church of England as the Pope is the head of the Catholic church, but Christ's church has no other head but Christ himself who is our Lord and Saviour, he moves among us, the alpha and omega, Father, Son and Holy spirit. The Church of England can choose and should choose, to leave rather than be pushed. It should declare its desire to leave the safety of the state, to become independent of it. It has no way to do so though and so it unfortunately won't leave the state unless forced too.
Those who campaign for gay marriage often aren't willing for the state to be neutral but believe that the state should lead in changing society’s understanding. This is the opposite of the secular position they claim to hold; instead replacing secularism with a liberalism almost religious in form. We can find a compromise solution, it stares us in the face: relinquish marriage back to the communities and replace the term legally from now on with civil partnership and let this be for both gay and straight. It is a compromise which brings the equality that gay rights campaigners request from the state and the respect for people's views on relationships which conservatives request.