Jackie Gingrich Cushman

The current conundrum regarding the legalization of same-sex marriage is what happens when church and state are mixed -- the topics become confusing and confused.

When I married my husband almost 15 years ago, I did so out of love and out of a desire to witness before God my commitment to him and his to me. The legal and tax ramifications did not enter into my head.

But for couples of the same sex, the legal and tax ramifications can be very important because their legal rights differ from those of heterosexual couples in a number of ways, from hospital visiting rights to insurance benefits and taxes on death benefits.

It is time for us to pull apart the institution of marriage from the definition of a legal union.

Marriage should be determined by the church, whatever church you belong to. Some religions agree to same-sex marriages, others do not.

On the other hand, the state should not meddle with the definition of marriage, but focus instead on determining the legality and requirements of civil unions.

Marriage -- and the relationship between partners and their God -- should be defined by the church.

Civil unions and their legalities should be defined by the state.

It would breach the idea of freedom of religion to force a priest or pastor who does not believe in same-sex marriage to perform such a union.

The division? The government should issue civil-union licenses that could be referenced for legal/insurance matters. Churches should continue to perform marriages as they see fit. The churches' determinations would not affect couples' legal standing in terms of taxes, benefits, etc.

Why is this delineation important?

Last week, the Supreme Court announced that it will hear two cases regarding same-sex marriage. One takes on the constitutionality of the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA), which defines marriage as it applies to the government this way: "In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, or of any ruling, regulation, or interpretation of the various administrative bureaus and agencies of the United States, the word 'marriage' means only a legal union between one man and one woman as husband and wife, and the word 'spouse' refers only to a person of the opposite sex who is a husband or a wife."

Lower courts have found that the act is unconstitutional.

The second case deals with California's Proposition 8, a voter initiative that amended the state constitution to define marriage as between a man and a woman. Lower courts have declared it unconstitutional because it withdraws rights from a minority group.


Jackie Gingrich Cushman

Jackie Gingrich Cushman is a speaker, syndicated columnist, socialpreneur, and author of "The Essential American: 25 Documents and Speeches Every American Should Own," and co-author of “The 5 Principles for a Successful Life: From Our Family to Yours”.