Without government imprimatur, it is not a legal marriage (even common-law marriages require legal imprimatur, even if only post hoc, i.e., they are deemed, retroactively, to have been legal marriages). How people "feel" (even "in their hearts") is irrelevant to the law.
It can't be a civil union, because it was not a legal union, but a religious one. So...is it a marriage or not?
Do you include two non-religious folks who pledge fidelity in, say, a Shaman ceremony? Wiccan? Gaian? Klingon? How about two children? The requirements of a legal marriage are clearly specified in the laws of each state. Once again, a marriage outside of government sanction is not a legal marriage (you know, that whole separation of church and state thing...)
If there is no difference between a marriage and a civil union, then what is the debate about?
Who said there is no difference?
Are you really committed to understanding the mainstream point of view vis-a-vis marriage? Let us find out!
Defining marriage (outside of the federal definition of a legal and state-sanctioned union between one man and one woman who meet eligibility standards) is not easy, and anti-marriage activists use that difficulty to their advantage, claiming that "universal marriage" is about equal rights, which it isn't. Examples include polygamy (although it is perfectly legal to father children among multiple women simultaneously, the U.S. government chooses not to sanction it, not even if all other "common law" definitions have been met; conversely, one woman can bear several men's children--sometimes simultaneously, believe it or not--yet these men will not be classed as her husbands) and marriage between certain blood relations (although this varies by state). My point here is that we (generally) agree that certain classes of adult-consented unions do not meet our definition of marriage (even an unspecified definition, i.e., we just know "that ain't right"). Right? So it is *not* strictly an "equal rights" issue.
So, what is marriage then or, rather, why do we care to define it at the federal level?
Because the State has an interest in promoting certain behaviors. Think broadly: the State rewards you for all sorts of things--charitable donations comes to mind. The government also encourages certain behaviors ("be wise, ex-er-cise, move a-round, have some fun"; "It's a matter of life--and breath"; etc.) because the State has an interest in promoting positive behaviors (a cynic might add--to increase lifetime tax revenues, but I digress...).
Let us shoot up to the macro-level; ready? First, remember that our government is of, by, and for the people. Our government (and, hence, we as a nation) recognize and have decided to codify that:
- Children represent the future (literally), and thus,
- Societies need babies.
- Men and women, despite any and all technological (e.g., birth control) or governmental (e.g., China) controls, are GOING TO MAKE BABIES.
- Currently (and for the preceding millenia) babies can ONLY BE MADE BY ONE MAN AND ONE WOMAN.
- Ideally (and I am not pulling this out of my butt, I am merely reminding you of the concepts underlying oru marriage laws, i.e., what marriage is and why it is important--I repeat, IDEALLY), any and all children will be raised in a family structure headed by two biological parents in a low-conflict marriage.
Children in single-parent families, children born to unmarried mothers, and children in stepfamilies or cohabiting relationships face higher risks of poor outcomes; while such sub-optimal structures exist should--and not bring condemnation per se--the fact remains that FROM THE STATE'S PERSPECTIVE, there is value in promoting strong, stable marriages between biological parents.
And before you get going on the "not all marriages produce children," YES, THE STATE IS AWARE OF THAT, but the State is (thankfully) not in the business of figuring out whether any individual is fertile or not--it is unimportant from the macro level. Further, before you get going on the "marriage is not about children," uh, yes, from the State's perspective, it IS about family (to include children). Let us delve a little further; remember, the State ALLOWS other formats, but it holds out as IDEAL(via benefits and incentives) the one man/one woman set-up.
Remember: you are ALLOWED to be a lousy driver, but the BEST drivers enjoy premium rates. You are ALLOWED to cohabitate with whomever (or however many) you choose (and praise be!), but if you seek the State's Stamp of Approval, you're gonna play by thesociety's (current) rules as enforced via the mechanism of government.
So...why is the State against so-called gay marriage? Because it falls away from the ideal. Just as homosexuality is not "normal" (in the statistical sense), only ONE format (of anything, really) can be ideal. I am not saying that gay couples represent worse outcomes than any other variation (e.g., heterosexual cohabitiation, serial marriage, or whatever), I am saying that only ONE is IDEAL (and our society and government--and most of the world--have decided, based on experience, research, and Darwin, that the IDEAL is one man + one woman).
Sure, marriages suffer all sorts of problems--so does any human endeavor. Ideals, by their nature, are difficult to achieve. By including same-sex couples (and excluding other viable alternatives, by the way), the government would be inluding that format in its espoused ideal.
Whew! hope that made sense.
By the way--if you actually read what I wrote, and chose to understand the reasoning, congrats! Believe me, I understand the opposing view, I even empathize with the mechanics of the argument at the individual level. Where I differ is that weigh the societal good (large) differently than the perceived marginal individual "good" in this case.