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The debate over gay marriage and state-sponsored health-care benefits is just the tip of the iceberg of a bigger problem.
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Long before marriage was a legal term, marriage, as an institution, dates back into antiquity and is found in nearly every culture. Marriage originally was a religious ceremony. The first ties of marriage to government was the use of marriage to join tribes and later kingdoms together, but it was still a religious ceremony. Marriage was an option and a political tool, but not a requirement.
In the 12th century, the Roman Catholic church made marriage a sacrament. With marriage now a requirement to avoid the burning fires of hell, marriage became cemented into Western culture. The marriage requirement became so prevalent that at one point, many states created "common law" marriages so that couples who chose not to bring God into their relationship had marriage forced on them anyway.
As civil rights and property laws evolved, "common law" marriages began to fall by the wayside and lawmakers found new ways to force marriage upon society: Benefits exclusive to married couples. Instead of asking why gay couples can't enjoy the same benefits as married couples, why aren't we asking why heterosexual couples living together can't enjoy the same benefits as married couples?
Getting married gives the state all the authority to decide what happens to your property, your money and your children if the union is broken by death or choice. I am happily married but my wife and I don't trust the state to make major life decisions for us. What if I didn't get married and went into a coma? The person I've placed all my trust in wouldn't be allow to make any decisions about my future.
Joining the marriage club has it's benefits, but it's clear the once-religious ceremony has been replaced by a government mandate. Since they can't scare us into marriage with burning hell fires anymore, they punish unmarried couples financially and deny health care to entire families. For gay couples it's even worse: They are forbidden to join the marriage club because as far as the state is concerned, they are already on fire.