This is a rough sketch of a compromise that has the potential, I think, to satisfy everyone. The idea is to invent a type of union between persons that has no sexual connotations, allowing marriage to be a separate phenomenon altogether that is left entirely to churches.
People often talk carelessly about marriage without distinguishing civil marriages from religious ones, a mistake frequently made on these very forums. The distinction is important because it reflects a deeper incongruity within civil marriage: we give people special privileges and financial benefits provided that they “love each other” and that they will presumably procreate, at least in the typical case. In other words, privileges that a priori have nothing to do with sex are arbitrarily entangled with sexual prerequisites, and this creates needless tension between civil and religious conceptions of marriage.
Since the privileges of civil marriage serve a pragmatic end, what would it look like if we reduced it to only its most essential parts? Take, for example, the privilege of being able to share one’s insurance with another. Is the sexual prerequisite necessary in this case? Indeed, should I even have to love the person with whom I’m sharing insurance? This seems like a useful feature that is independent of any romantic connotations.
Consider all such privileges of civil marriage that would be beneficial to society regardless of romance. Now imagine that we invented a type of partnership in which the only prerequisites are whatever is necessary for those privileges to be endowed on the partners in question. This form of partnership would necessarily be weaker than marriage itself, since it only contains a subset of the benefits. It wouldn’t be “redefining” marriage at all, which is an accusation often levied against alternatives such as gay marriage. This is because, once again, this form of partnership is entirely disconnected from the prerequisites of marriage. It doesn’t require nor encourage sex, so it doesn’t condone fornication of any sort. You can’t attach any sexual sin to it because it simply has nothing to do with sex. For example, there is no obvious reason why siblings shouldn’t be allowed to establish these partnerships, and any accusation that this would promote incest would be absurd.
So my question to Christians is: How does this alternative strike you? Is it better than redefining marriage to extend it to gay partners?