Civil unions and gay marriage: How can we be faithful?

As a young Christian who believes firmly in social justice and just as firmly in the presence of an active and loving Christ Jesus, I have a hard time placing myself in the debate over homosexual marriage versus civil unions. My fundamentalist Christian upbringing pulls in resistance to discussion over which is more just for homosexual couples: civil unions or marriage. But, the more liberal side of me identifies with the fight for social justice and is strongly resistant to the “us” and “them” discussion, instead wanting to provide equal opportunity for all people. I have a political answer to the civil union versus marriage debate. I am unsure of my personal answer based on my faith and the Bible. It is a question I still roll over in my head, trying to reason and think through my Christian response.

In 1996, President Clinton signed the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), thereby allowing federal benefits to only be extended to married partners of the opposite sex. Some states have legalized civil unions, and have extended state benefits to partners of the same sex. States that legalize marriage between partners of the same sex will in essence be doing the same thing as civil unions: extending state benefits, but also supplying a marriage license. Even in those states that do legalize marriage for same-sex couples, federal benefits will still be denied, due to DOMA.

The debate surrounding civil unions v. gay marriage takes a turn in light of DOMA. The federal government would have to recognize same-sex marriage before federal benefits could be extended to same-sex couples. State rights being given to same-sex couples is a progressive step, but far from the federal acknowledgement that same-sex couples and supporters of homosexual marriage desire.

I believe that equality on the legal level should be extended to same-sex couples. Federal benefits should be given to those couples who choose to be married, rather than reserving them for couples of the opposite sex. Civil unions should receive state and federal benefits, just as heterosexual married couples do.

My internal struggle revolves more around the idea of marriage. Marriage in the United States most often takes place in a Christian context, whether or not the couples involved proclaim to be Christians. Marriage is a mark of approval from society and from the Church, that the union taking place is holy and sacred. It is a bond that exceeds the bounds of friendship, and a bond that even extends the boundaries of lovers. Marriage is something more. Couples still pledge to love in sickness and in health, for better or for worse. Marriage is an ideal.

Frankly, I don’t think many Americans are ready or willing to extend the title of marriage to same-sex couples. Civil unions with full federal and state benefits seem like a more reasonable idea of what will happen in the future.

I continue to work my way through my thoughts and beliefs concerning civil unions and same-sex marriage. I continue to read, write, discuss and pray. All in all, it is not up to me to determine the morality of the issue. I know that the Lord tells me to love everyone with equal fervor, just as he has loved me. I know that Jesus holds us close to his heart. And for me, that is enough. I do not need to make judgments based on what I think is right. I just need to do what Jesus tells me to do, work on the things he has pointed out in my own life, and love the people around me in the process. Ultimately, that is where I stand in the civil union v. marriage debate.

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