New Castle News

May 15, 2012

Mitchel Olszak: Politics of marriage makes lots of money

Mitchel Olszak
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — Excitement raged across the political spectrum last week when President Obama came out in support of gay marriage.

I yawned.

The news didn’t strike me as particularly dramatic. Even though Obama had, in the past, said he opposed gay marriage, there were ample signs his stance was shifting.

But what really makes this news less than momentous is the fact a president doesn’t have much authority where marriage is concerned. Traditionally, marriage is a state matter, not a federal one.

For instance, North Carolina’s vote last week that rejected gay marriage, civil unions and the like carries far more legal weight than Obama’s comments.

What Obama’s statement managed to do, however, was open the floodgates on campaign contributions. By all accounts, money is pouring into Obama’s campaign coffers as a result of his position change. Similarly, organizations opposed to gay marriage are raking in big bucks in reaction to the president’s statement.

That’s invariably what happens with these hot-button issues. And the politicians and their strategists know it.

In the aftermath of Obama’s announcement, analysts speculated about the political risks of the move. My guess is that folks strongly opposed to gay marriage had no plans to vote for Obama anyway. And those on the other side were almost sure to support him. The only change is the influx of money into the system from the gullible on the right and left.

That cash will be used to curry favor during the campaign with everyone else.

So what we are seeking is another flare up in America’s marriage wars. We can expect to see these continue so long as there is money to be made from them.

In fact, there is a very simple, practical and desirable resolution available to end America’s marriage wars. But pursuing it would turn off the money valve. So instead, the ideologues continue to clash.

To end the battles over this issue, we need to recognize marriage has both secular and sacred purposes in our society. From government’s perspective, marriage is a contract, much like a business partnership, which spells out matters such as joint ownership of property and other issues that promote social stability and predictability.

For various reasons, it is in society’s interest to promote stable, secure and contractual relationships between committed individuals, regardless of gender.

Conversely, churches sanction marriage as part of a larger religious mission. Marriage here is not just about the relationship between partners, but also with the church and God.

So when we seek to meld these two different interests in marriage into a single institution, the problems we have now arise.

This is why we should change marriage laws. States should stop issuing marriage licenses and instead authorize contracts that deal in nothing more than matters of law. These arrangements would bind couple legally, but would not be marriages.

Instead, a marriage would be a status confirmed by a church. Each religion would have its own rules regarding marriage. A church could allow gay marriage or not. It could impose other standards as well.

But a marriage would be a spiritual arrangement only. It would carry no legal weight. If a couple with a church-sanctioned marriage wants the force of civil law to protect their arrangement, they also would have to sign separate contracts with the state.

This system would protect the interests of church, state and individuals. It would end the marriage wars by formally dividing the roles of government and religion.

But don’t expect it to happen anytime soon. So long as millions of Americans are willing to pay for the pleasure of butting heads over marriage, the status quo will persist.

(Contact Mitchel Olszak at (724) 654-6651, extension 628, or e-mail him at