It seems New York is the latest Ground Zero for the ongoing marriage debate. I’m not surprised the courts ruled against it (even Eliot Spitzer, who is openly for a law allowing gay marriage in New York, interpreted the current law as disallowing it), and I am less surprised that legislators are now taking up the cause.

For the record, I am 100 percent supportive of gay marriage. Equality issues aside, we live in a country where we have freedoms. One of those freedoms is that we can choose who to spend the rest of our lives with, who we want to be our families. Why should we deny this right to couples wo love one another? It’s not about how many gays actually want to get married, or what divorce rates are among straights, or the “sanctity of marriage” (and I certainly don’t understand how someone else’s union would affect the vows you choose to take with someone else), it’s about having the right to share your life with the one you love.

However, this post is not about my views on marriage, or my increasing annoyance with the Religious Right’s War on Sex, but instead about the rite of marriage itself, and how the laws define marriage make for some very blurry grey areas as far as those laws of state and the laws of different religions are concerned.

Marriage is an institute of the church. Most religions recognize some form of union between couples (some, such as Unitarian faiths, recognize same-sex unions as well), however for simplification purposes, I will use a Christian backdrop. The purpose of marriage is to announce before God that you are committing yourself to one other person for the rest of your life. Whether you agree with the argument that marriages without children are invalid or marriages among homosexuals are an abomination is hardly the point, and can be debated elsewhere.

So, if marriage is to announce to God that, this is it, the end of the rope, that makes it religious. So, why, exactly, is the state weighing in on the matter? “Marriage” at the state level represents a binding contract. Essentially, it ties you to another human being financially and legally. The religious union is an emotional one, and the state union is much more sterile.

In essence, “marriage” is simply just a fancy term for “civil union.” You don’t get “married,” by a justice of the peace. You get “married” by a priest, minister, holy woman or some other religious entity. Most people, however, when they get married, also join in a civil union for a number of obvious reasons. However, not always – many will join in these civil unions for legal purposes (such as health insurance or green cards) and hold off on the religious commitment for a later date. And, though less common but not unheard of, some commit in a religious ceremony but never sign a legal marriage license.

So. Though I disagree with the whys, I do agree that many of the religious denominations that are against gay marriage have a point – marriage IS an institute of the church. However, if a church wants to perform a marriage between a gay couple, I think the state should butt out of that as well. In the meantime, the state version of marriage is a civil union. Case in point: A Catholic does not get to have a divorce. Catholics can be granted annulments, but they are not easy to get. In the eyes of the Catholic Church, once you’re married, you’re married. However, the state will let you break that contract. How can you call them the same thing when one half has a different set of rules than the other?

Would calling all state contractual marriages “civil unions” instead make those who are against gay marriage more likely to lighten up? Not likely. However, as long as “marriage” is used as the term for that binding contract these grey areas are going to continue to be mucked up.