I'm married, and have been for the last 9 years. I love my husband and feel I have a rather good marriage. It has problems, we have struggles, but so far we have stood together. There are lots of reasons for that, but for right now, my marriage isn't the one I want to focus on. I want to focus on the institutions of marriage as seen in the United States. Did you see what I said, institutions. <-- Look there's an "s" on that. That means more than one. And that is what I mean. There are more than one institution of marriage. Understanding that would make the whole marriage debate as a nation a lot easier, at least in my humble opinion.
Currently, in the United States the issue of who can marry, and what that means is a very hot debate item. It is my opinion, that in reality there are several different institutions that are definably different. Therefore what really needs to happen to forward the debate in a meaningful way is that the contract and responsibilities expected under the term of marriage needs to be separately defined as far as the federal government is concerned. In order to do this, I propose that the concept of marriage in a legal regard be distinctly different and independent of the many religious considerations of marriage.
Before I get flamed by those who personally believe the same things as I do in regards to marriage, allow me to attempt to defend myself. Personally, to me, marriage is an unbreakable bond. It is a lifetime commitment to supporting and uplifting my spouse. To me it is not just a piece of signed paper or even a legal contract. It is not insurance benefits (hahaha, we don't have insurance anymore thanks to other issues), it is not the rights currently recognized by the state for us to adopt children, be considered a family, or to speak on one another's behalf. To me, my marriage is a religious promise, a covenant between my husband, myself, and God. In all reality there is nothing that the federal government can do that will change that.
Now then, what's all the hubbub? Well they hubbub is those other things. The being recognized by the federal government and other "contract" agencies, like the healthcare industry. The ordeal is, that there is a different definition of marriage out there. One that isn't centered on a religious doctrine, or tradition, but is purely a societal institution. It is this societal marriage that is so hard for those with strong traditional or religious marriages to understand. It isn't the same thing! Oh sure, it's not that different, but depending on the parties involved it can mean very different things.
The easiest solution would be to have separate distinct institutions for these differing concepts, ideally complete with their own independent terms. Only one of which would be recognized as a legally binding contract in the eyes of the government. However, like so many things, changing terms is difficult and seldom quick or practical. Just play along for a minute though. Say we were actually going to do this and that government recognized marriage was a contract between specified individuals (most likely two do to the existing monogamy laws, but I can be flexible in my hypothetical world). This contract would then be honored for all those benefits now seen by those who are "married". Wham bam, large part of the problem solved, but still it is only half of the solution.
The rest is going to lay in a change on the religious fronts. They are also going to have to make a change. However, it is my opinion that this change will not affect doctrine for all the religions of which I am familiar (which is quite a few). For these groups they will still have the option not to recognize on equal terms the government marriage and therefore may perform their own joining ceremonies, of which the government has no interest, that fulfills the needs of their specific beliefs and traditions. Many groups may decide this is unnecessary. However others will opt for two marriages, one for recognition by the government and one expressing their individual beliefs.
I know there is so much more to this issue. I know that some people are scared of those who choose a life not approved of by their beliefs displaying their life to children is problematic. Personally, I feel that parenting is what is needed here, but then I do know how little I agree with my own parents on matters of politics and adult society. However, I feel that under the workings of our government and the wording of the constitution to allow differences, parenting is the best course for addressing this issue. Parenting can be done by non parents as well. Especially as a young adult and teen I learned so much from adults who parented me, but were not my parents.
I feel that it is not the desire of those currently not granted the right of marriage and those who are not of a religious tradition to have a religiously recognized marriage, but to have one recognized by the government. If that is truly the case, then this idea would be sufficient. The problem is with those that do not wish any to be considered married unless their marriage is equal in commitment and responsibility to their own. Unfortunately, this is never going to be a viable option as is proven by those who have the right to marry now, yet do not follow the religious traditions that are revered by those so vocal on the conservative stance of this issue.
Personally, if so many other things were fixed so that marriage was unnecessary for many things which it is required now, contracts, health insurance, representation rights, default legal decisions and the like, then the marriage state would be stronger and so many other things would be better. However, those issues are for another day.