Commentary: Let churches handle marriages

Given that California struck down gay marriage a couple of months after it was legalized, the issue is front and center once again.

Here's a simple solution:

Strip the government of its ability to sanction marriage and allow it to approve only civil unions, whether they be same sex or opposite sex. The likes of Alan Dershowitz have made similar arguments.

Technically, this is already being done, at least for opposite sex couples, which is why Britney Spears was able to get drunk and on a lark marry a childhood friend. Religion played no part in that farce.

But the major hangup seems to be with the word "marriage" itself. Remove it from the debate, and a more serious discussion will be at hand.

Is it really about equal rights, as gay marriage proponents (like me) claim? Giving everyone access to civil unions, with the same privileges and responsibilities, solves that problem.

Is it really about preserving tradition, as is the claim of those against gay marriage? Then remove marriage from the government's purview. If it's really about God, why does it need the approval of the flawed human beings we elect to represent us? And isn't removing government from our personal lives a conservative tenet?

Couples could still commit to a civil union on Friday and on Saturday have a religious wedding. Many opponents of marriage for gays and lesbians know the current state of affairs violates the spirit of equal rights in a country that cherishes individual freedom.

They also know that it is good for society to have more families centered upon committed, healthy adult relationships. Honoring the relationships of gays and lesbians will strengthen, not devalue, the institution.

But the notion that we can legally segregate two groups of people - giving one marriage, the other civil unions - while calling it equal has been discredited.

Besides that, a more complete reading of history shows the tradition of marriage isn't as traditional as many think. There was a time ancient Hebrew law decreed that a man had to become the husband of a deceased brother's widow.

There was a time when marriage was recognized when two people simply said they were married. Through the ninth century, the church had no formal role. The church is making claim to a tradition that's not its own. But if giving up the word marriage to the church will bring about equality, it would be worth it.

Or we can do the more sensible thing - allow gays and lesbians to marry.