Bioethics Blogs

The meaning of m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e

I am reprinting below my opinion piece in today’s Morning Call, which can be found at

Our Two-Track “Marriage” System

Kim Davis, the County Clerk in Morehead, Kentucky, had been in jail for contempt of court, for refusing to comply with an order to issue marriage licenses to all “ eligible” couples, including those of the same sex. She claims that she is upholding her religious beliefs, because only marriages between a man and a woman are recognized by God.

Some may admire her stubbornness and others decry it, but the reality is that Ms. Davis is caught in a category mistake, one we have been stumbling over for a long time. There are two words spelled m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e in this country and these words describe sharply different things. When the state, in the person of Ms. Davis, issues a marriage license, it is acknowledging a secular contract which carries a host of secular privileges and responsibilities.

A civil “marriage” license and a religious “marriage” ceremony are two entirely different things. In fact, it would have been far better had the state not gotten into the “marriage” business in the first place. “Marriage” has so much religious and cultural baggage, that the state has no business presiding over it. The politicians who begged, in the political struggles around same-sex marriage, “Just don’t call it marriage,” were on the right track. What we really have, if we think about it clearly, is a system of government licensed civil unions, for gays and straights alike.

For some couples, this is enough.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.