A law­maker’s so­lu­tion for mar­riage de­bate

Take state gov­ern­ment out of mar­riage com­pletely

Kuwait Times - - INTERNATIONAL -


A Mis­souri Repub­li­can saw last year’s de­bate over a pro­posed con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment that would have pro­tected busi­nesses that deny ser­vices to same­sex cou­ples bring law­mak­ers to tears and grind leg­isla­tive work to a halt. His po­ten­tial so­lu­tion: Take state gov­ern­ment out of mar­riage com­pletely. “You can stop spend­ing so much emo­tional en­ergy on the is­sue, and we can move on to other things,” state Rep TJ Berry said, adding, “I’m treat­ing every­body the ex­act same way and leav­ing space for peo­ple to be­lieve what they be­lieve out­side of gov­ern­ment.”

His bill, filed ahead of the 2017 leg­isla­tive ses­sion, would make Mis­souri the first state to rec­og­nize only do­mes­tic unions for both het­ero­sex­ual and gay cou­ples, treat­ing le­gal part­ner­ships equally and leav­ing mar­riages to be done by pas­tors and other re­li­gious lead­ers. But such peace could be elu­sive for sev­eral rea­sons. Some ar­gue that leav­ing mar­riage to re­li­gious lead­ers is a way to con­sti­tu­tion­ally refuse to per­form cer­e­monies for same-sex cou­ples.

Plus, there are po­ten­tial lo­gis­ti­cal is­sues with strip­ping ref­er­ences to mar­riage in hun­dreds of state statutes, and the fed­eral gov­ern­ment rec­og­nizes only mar­riages for ben­e­fits. Berry’s idea has been met by skep­ti­cism from pretty much all sides of the gay mar­riage is­sue. Other states in­clud­ing Alabama, In­di­ana and Michi­gan failed to pass sim­i­lar bills to limit the gov­ern­ment’s role in mar­riage, and Ok­la­homa rep­re­sen­ta­tives passed a bill that didn’t make it out of the Se­nate.

The Mis­souri bill’s chances are un­clear, al­though Repub­li­can House Ma­jor­ity Floor Leader Mike Cier­piot, who lives 30 min­utes south of Kansas City in Lee’s Sum­mit, said the is­sue needs to be dis­cussed due to im­pas­sioned ar­gu­ments among LGBT rights groups and re­li­gious or­ga­ni­za­tions that have con­tin­ued in the wake of the 2015 US Supreme Court de­ci­sion le­gal­iz­ing same-sex mar­riage.

Treat all cou­ples the same

The bill is backed by states’ rights group Tenth Amend­ment Cen­ter, whose spokesman Mike Ma­har­rey called it a “great com­pro­mise” and ref­er­enced county clerks in other states, such as Ken­tucky, who re­fused to is­sue mar­riage li­censes to same-sex cou­ples. “It re­moves that type of battle of con­science,” he said. While the bill “would treat all cou­ples the same” - at least in Mis­souri the le­gal di­rec­tor for the na­tional LGBT ad­vo­cacy group Hu­man Rights Cam­paign high­lighted a sig­nif­i­cant is­sue. The fed­eral gov­ern­ment does not rec­og­nize do­mes­tic part­ner­ships or other al­ter­na­tive unions, so Mis­souri’s same-sex and op­po­site-sex cou­ples would need to get mar­ried in an­other state to re­ceive fed­eral ben­e­fits re­gard­ing tax­a­tion, so­cial se­cu­rity and mil­i­tary spousal ben­e­fits, Sarah War­be­low said.

Berry, who’s from Kear­ney, about 30 min­utes north of Kansas City, said he’s seek­ing guid­ance from the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. The bill also doesn’t ad­dress the heart of ten­sion be­tween re­li­gious groups and gay rights groups: whether same-sex cou­ples should have the right to wed. Mem­bers of the Mis­souri Bap­tist Con­ven­tion are con­cerned that en­dors­ing Berry’s mea­sure would be seen as ac­cept­ing the Supreme Court’s rul­ing, pol­icy di­rec­tor Don Hin­kle said.

“We be­lieve that the Bi­ble is lit­er­ally the words of God, and we’re to keep his com­mand­ments,” Hin­kle said. “And he makes it very clear that mar­riage is to be only be­tween a man and a woman.” Demo­cratic House Mi­nor­ity Leader Gail Mc­Cann Beatty said the is­sue was set­tled at the fed­eral level, call­ing the bill “ab­so­lutely un­nec­es­sary.” She also warned that the whop­ping 386-page bill has un­known con­se­quences, po­ten­tially caus­ing prob­lems for cou­ples in do­mes­tic unions who move out of state.

And there’s the pos­si­bil­ity that the mea­sure could chip away at the sig­nif­i­cance of mar­riage. “If you re­place mar­riage with do­mes­tic union, will peo­ple still take that con­tract as se­ri­ously?” Mis­souri Catholic Con­fer­ence Ex­ec­u­tive Di­rec­tor Mike Hoey said. Most Amer­i­cans “don’t want mar­riage to dis­ap­pear,” War­be­low said. “There is some­thing about mar­riage,” she said. “Peo­ple don’t grow up dream­ing about be­ing in civil unions or do­mes­tic part­ner­ships.” — AP

JEF­FER­SON CITY: In this March 31, 2016, file photo, gay-rights sup­porter Mathew “Skippy” Mauldin holds a flag dur­ing a gay rights rally out­side the Capi­tol. — AP

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