Civil unions instead of marriage

Legal unions for homosexual couples won’t have any impact on traditional marriage, or so the argument goes. But consider what is happening in France, which has had “civil unions” for a decade. From Straight Couples in France Are Choosing Civil Unions Meant for Gays – washingtonpost.com:

The PACS [French acronym for the civil union law] broadened into an increasingly popular third option for heterosexual couples, who readily cite its appeal: It has the air of social independence associated with the time-honored arrangement that the French call the “free union” but with major financial and other advantages. It is also far easier to get out of than marriage.

The number of PACS celebrated in France, both gay and heterosexual unions, has grown from 6,000 in its first year of operation in 1999 to more than 140,000 in 2008, according to official statistics. For every two marriages in France, a PACS is celebrated, the statistics show, making a total of half a million PACSed couples, and the number is rising steadily. . . .

Perhaps more important as an indication of how French people live, the number of heterosexual men and women entering into a PACS agreement has grown from 42 percent of the total initially to 92 percent last year.

New word alert: “Free unions” instead of “living together.” I’ll bet that catches on.

Heterosexuals have all but completely taken over the civil union option (92%, leaving just 8% for gays!). The civil unions give heterosexual couples financial advantages, but when one of them wants to leave, it is easy: “If one or both of the partners declares in writing to the court that he or she wants out, the PACS is ended, with neither partner having claim to the other’s property or to alimony.” So much for family permanence.

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    “Heterosexuals have all but completely taken over the civil union option (92%, leaving just 8% for gays!). The civil unions give heterosexual couples financial advantages, but when one of them wants to leave, it is easy: “If one or both of the partners declares in writing to the court that he or she wants out, the PACS is ended, with neither partner having claim to the other’s property or to alimony.” So much for family permanence.”
    As far as I’m concerned this is quite a bit better than the current situation in the U.S. where the woman is given every encouragement to divorce and offered the man’s head on a silver platter for doing so. As long as we have this so-called No Fault Divorce (It’s more Man’s Fault Divorce, as in he was stupid enough to get married in the first place, so he will lose half of everything and has a snow balls chance in hell for custody. ) we are living in glass houses and have no reason to throw stones.

  • David T.

    I suppose one could argue that civil unions are better than divorce. To me, however that is like arguing joining a Mormon church is better than leaving a real Christian church.

  • David T.

    Civil unions were created to give something like marriage to homosexuals when and where it was illegal for them to get married. From the beginning it was a watered-down version of marriage, or, as Veith called it, “marriage lite.” More importantly it is the State recklessly undermining the divinely instituted estate of Marriage and its very existence: “A man shall leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” Instead of the abrupt dissolution of a marriage by divorce brought about by two people (maybe only one is in the wrong), here we have the State saying this estate need not exist and is no better than any man-made arrangement. It is the epitome of postmodernism. It is “marriage” without the responsibilities, permanency, commitment, and even — in gay unions — the right make up. Wherever you see it arise, real marriage begins to fade. In Nordland County, one of Norway’s most “tolerant,” Stanley Kurtz observed this in 2004: “[I]n a place where de facto marriage [civil union] has gained almost complete acceptance, marriage itself has almost completely disappeared.”

  • http://blog.higherthings.org/wcwirla/ wcwirla

    I’m beginning to wonder whether the state is a competent steward of marriage. We may need to rethink this in two-kingdoms’ terms.

    Just thinking out loud here.

  • Peter Leavitt

    One can’t neatly separate civil unions from traditional marriage. Civil unions in Scandanavia and France have led to a breakdown of traditional mariage

    Peter Wood in an insightful NRO article, What’s So Civil about Civil Unions?, writes:

    Recently, about 4,000 people rallied on the Boston Common in opposition to gay marriage. I talked afterwards to one of the protesters who seemed rather discouraged. He noted that, as he has gone around and talked to people in the state about the issue, he has found many who are diffident. They have essentially bought the line, “Why should I care? If two gay people get married, how does that hurt me?” In truth, it probably wouldn’t. The destructive consequences would fall mainly on the young and the vulnerable who would grow up in a society without the bulwark of traditional marriage protecting them against the excesses of their own immature appetites and the rapacious desire of older males ever eager to expand the zone of sexual permissiveness.

    …Jesting with calamity has some merit, but it probably won’t change the tenor of the debate. As to whether we should cut our losses by accepting civil unions as a step short of gay marriage, I take counsel from Michel De Montaigne. In his essay “On Vain and Cunning Devices,” Montaigne warns against the illusion that the middling way is always safest. Rather the middle ground is the natural home of “erroneous opinions” and men who “bring disturbances to the world.” I think we are best off facing the harder question squarely. To be generous in spirit and worthy as a culture, do we really need to abandon our commitment to traditional marriage? That’s where gay marriage — and civil unions too — will inexorably take us.

    However tempting, serious Christians need to avoid the siren song of civil unions and stand for traditional marriage.

  • WebMonk

    As far as the state is concerned, with all the laws and different benefits of marriage/civil unions/whatever-you-call-it, they should do whatever is best for their society. We’ll all have different determinants as to what that best is, but it doesn’t impact (directly) the institution of marriage in moral terms.

    The two will interact, but are not equal. A civil union or a legal marriage can mark a moral marriage or can mark a fornication or even a homosexual relationship. Just because the legal recognition is applied to something doesn’t necessarily make it a marriage in moral terms, or keep it from being a marriage in moral terms.

    Civil unions are merely a different type of legal recognition of a moral state. Obviously CUs make it easier to get into and out of the legal entanglements of marriage (moral), but it doesn’t destroy marriage. If there weren’t CUs, it’s not like the people wouldn’t have sex or live together.

    If a couple lives together and then breaks up, there isn’t a difference in terms of sin if there is a legal recognition that they are living together and then a legal recognition that they stop.

    There will be societal changes that happen because of the easier union/split-marriage/divorce differences, some good, some bad. Effects on kids might be worse, or they might be better. But, it’s hardly going to change the moral actions of anyone. We’ll still have sex and kids outside of marriage, and kids will be living in split/reformed homes just like now.

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    Cwirla,
    “I’m beginning to wonder whether the state is a competent steward of marriage. We may need to rethink this in two-kingdoms’ terms.

    Just thinking out loud here.’

    I’m with you on this. And it isn’t “we may need to.” It is we had better start rethinking this as of this time last year. I’m about ready to assign pre-nups to every couple that walks through my door and not marry them until they sign.
    David T, We don’t have marriages any more, not as far as the state is concerned. We just have men stupid enough to sign half their income away. The state hasn’t honored anything like a marriage since the 1970s.
    And Peter, I agree that Christians need to stand for traditional marriage which is why I am remarried, even after learning the hard way what a lose lose situation the state has made it. But then I sometimes wonder what it is. The more I think about it, the more I come to the conclusion that it no longer matters what the state wants to call it. Marriage is between the man and the woman he married. The state is doing everything it can to actively destroy the institution. So perhaps the piece of paper they have you sign isn’t worth anything. It certainly isn’t what God uses in determining a marriage.

  • http://www.toddstadler.com/ tODD

    Veith, nothing in that article supports your apparent argument that homosexual unions have a negative impact on traditional marriage. Best I can tell, the PACS are having an impact on living together/”free unions”, but there aren’t any data supplied on the effect this is having on traditional marriage.

    So the question is: is a less-permanent arrangement better than no arrangement at all? Nobody seems to be discussing that much. The article does note that 1/6th of PACS result in marriage. Not overwhelming, but would those couples have otherwise gotten married at all? I don’t know.

    Best I can tell, this is just another offering from the state that encourages something like a family, though less bindingly than a normal marriage, since getting out is fairly trivial. It’s more stabilizing than nothing, I’d argue. And if a state is going to go ahead and allow no-fault divorce in traditional marriages anyhow, are PACS any worse, given that they’re at least less financially harmful to both people involved?

    Pastors: how would you feel if a couple in your church got PACSed civilly, and yet wanted to be married in the eyes of the church as well? If you would dissuade it because it’s too easy to separate, then how do you feel about couples in your church getting married in a no-fault state (assuming you live in one)? Do you encourage your congregation to add an extra binding legal contract stipulating that they will not get divorced, or at least enforcing much harsher penalties if they do?

  • http://www.utah-lutheran.blogspot.com Bror Erickson

    tODD,
    Hence my whole thing about the Pre nups. Haven’t done it yet, but I am beginning to think that moving in that direction might be smart.
    I think we are really going to have to re examine this issue hard as a church. Marriage is more or less a secular thing, as it is given to all not only Christians. I don’t think though that it is a state thing much more than it is an ecclesiastical thing. But we Christian’s might stop forcing men into a bad situation. Prenups might go along way in that.

  • Peter Leavitt

    Marriage is more or less a secular thing…

    Not really, traditionally in a Christian culture marriage is a sacred union between a man and a woman in order that they may fruitfully bear and nurture children. When one avers that marriage is “more or less a secular thing” marriage is reduced to a vague trifle. Until the abomination of the Massachusetts Supreme Court decision, marriage between a man and a woman was regarded as crucial religious and civil contract in support of whole families that are the backbone of civil society.

    Of course, if one wants to reduce religion to some sort of private concern, then indeed marriage is more or less a bauble.

  • http://www.scyldingsinthemeadhall.blogspot.com The Scylding

    Of course, looking at the history of marriage, the involvement of both church / state is newer: The Council of Trent brought in the Catholic marriage laws, requiring the presence of a priest and two witnesses. By the 1600′s government recognition of ecclesiastically – contracted marriage was common in Protestant lands. Prior to Trent, it was a private transaction between two individuals. Church involvement was encouraged, but not required absolutely. This was done to prevent the denial of the contract by either party at a later time for their conveniance.

    Non-Ecclesiastical government “sanctioned” marriage appeared in the 1800′s – in Germany for instance, “civil marriage” was created in the 1870′s (Bismarck’s Germany).

    One should be careful of reading into History what isn’t there – the predominance of BOTH church- as well as state-sanctioned is a creature of the modern (ie post-Rennaissance) era.

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  • kerner

    It may be that I look at this subject from too much of a professional perspective, but I am not so sure that the societies that existed in Biblical times thought of marriage in the same way that we do. I did a little on line research (really, just a little, so what follows may turn out to contain some inaccuracies), and it seems that, legally, marriage was not difficult to enter into or get out of in ancient Rome, Egypt or even Israel. “Fault” did not usually seem to have been a necessary precedent to divorce; that is until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire and exerting influence over the left hand kingdom. On the other hand, divorce was not common except among the wealthy classes that could sometimes gain financial or political advantage by serial marriages.

    By Jesus time (I think) the concept of a marriage contract seems to have evolved, and Arab societies still use them. I think modern Arabs consider themselves “married” when they sign the contract, but they think of themselves as more fully married when the marriage is consumated. (This may explain the concept of Mary and Joseph being husband and wife, but somehow not quite married, as Joseph takes Mary to Bethlehem). But I think it’s pretty clear that even back in Deuteronomy, the husband didn’t need a reason to divorce his wife, just a written statement allowing her to remarry. That being the case, I sometimes wonder why we Christians are so profoundly concerned over the secular legal structure of marriage.

    Well, so much for my rudimentary two kingdom analysis of marriage and divorce.

    Bror, I don’t know what state you got divorced in, so I won’t automatically conclude that you could have benefitted from the services of a better lawyer. But in Wisconsin, I don’t think most divorced fathers feel quite as violated as you do. I mean none of them are overjoyed by the divorce process (or aftermath), as divorce destroys financial and family structures for both sides, but it is not uncommon for divorced parents who live reasonably close together to share placement. It may not mean a 50-50 split, but there are a lot of 60-40 and 70-30 splits out there, with support obligations adjusted accordingly.

  • Nathan

    ““If one or both of the partners declares in writing to the court that he or she wants out, the PACS is ended, with neither partner having claim to the other’s property or to alimony.” So much for family permanence.”

    Wouldn’t that just make them like marriage in many states of our country? Seems to me it doesn’t take much to dissolve a marriage around here either.

  • http://www.geneveith.com Veith

    Not really. Usually there is some kind of alimony, child-support, etc., that is awarded. Those measures are designed to protect the former wife and especially the children. All of that goes away with Civil Unions.

  • FW

    #10 peter L

    so are you saying… what ARE you saying… you are saying that to qualify for the sacred state of marriage men and women should submit to fertility tests and that women who have gone thru menopause do not qualify to get married?

    that would be the logical conclusion to your post…

  • FW

    it might be safer to just let a couple of homos get marriage license instead of creating civil unions….

  • http://wiki.idebate.org/index.php/Welcome_to_Debatepedia! brooks

    Debatepedia has an article on the civil unions vs. marriage which is pretty relevant to this article:

    http://wiki.idebate.org/index.php/Debate:_Civil_unions_vs._gay_marriage#Pro.2Fcon_sources


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