I agree with Bruce Bartlett (and, I think, a lot of people these days) that the main thing the gay marriage debate demonstrates is that the government should really get out of the marriage business. The sanctity of marriage and the legal rights of romantic couples are, at the end of the day, conceptually distinct issues that really ought to be distinguished.

The way things ought to work is that a couple is granted a civil union (or not) by the state which entails certain legal rights and responsibilities and granted a marriage (or not) by a church, mosque, or synagogue which confers whatever status it is that the relevant faith community deems applicable. There's nothing wrong, even, with having a merged service or giving clerics the power to perform the civil ceremony simultaneously with a religious one (tradition and convenience alike indicate that one shouldn't need two ceremonies), but as a technical legal matter it should stay separate. Individual religious leaders (and denominations) either will or won't officiate gay marriages (just as many rabbis won't perform a mixed marriage) and that will remain their business, which is what it ought to be. Meanwhile, gay couples and straight couples could enjoy not only the same rights (as in a standard "civil union" scheme), but the same status under civil law as well.

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