Mark Davis

As the U.S. Supreme Court prepares to tackle two gay marriage issues, those of us looking for some sweeping overall conclusions on the issue should temper our expectations.

The cases to be examined by the high court involve some specifics-- the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, and the range of benefits the federal government should grant in states choosing to recognize gay unions.

Both will necessarily involve some examination of what role the federal government should play in matters of gay marriage, but neither is likely to settle the biggest questions:

What is the proper role of government in defining marriage? If some states recognize gay marriage and some do not, how are those differences navigated? And is so-called “marriage equality” a right?

The first task in addressing those big topics is to slog through the first big obstacle-- we don’t even have clarity on the language of the debate.

Take the phrase "gay marriage ban.” It conjures daunting images of authorities banging on the doors of churches, rounding up all involved in any union of two men or two women.

This is what happens when the left writes the dictionary for a debate. To be clear: gays may marry today in any state they wish, at any time or place. That is their business. The only thing that is everybody’s business is which marriages will be recognized as the legal equal of heterosexual unions.

A marriage has three components:

The religious component surrounds the involvement of God in the wedding (and thus the marriage), and the degree to which He is invoked in the ceremony. From profound religiosity to none, that spectrum is purely the business of the couple.

The social component involves the recognition of the couple as married, the acknowledgement of them as husband and wife (or husband and husband or whatever) by friends, family and acquaintances. This is a function of the community surrounding the couple, and is also purely a matter of individual freedom of choice.

The third component of marriage involves legal recognition and certain attendant benefits that attach themselves to the status of marriage under various statutes.

I would suggest that this is by far the least important of the three. The role of faith and loved ones in a marriage eclipses the technicality of the license in the home office file cabinet.

It is the promises made to God and the embrace of a marriage by family and friends that make it meaningful, not the imprimatur of government.