The West Wing

Just in time for new year, one state debates ending government-sanctioned marriage

Just in time for new year, one state debates ending government-sanctioned marriage

Way back in 2004 — during Season 6 of the Emmy Award-winning television drama "The West Wing" — a congressman raised the idea of banning marriage. All marriage.

With two-thirds of Americans then opposed to same-sex nuptials, a gay Democrat identified as "Rep. Benoit" proposed getting the government out of the marriage business.

"If the government can't make it available to everyone, I want us out of the business entirely," Benoit said to Josh Lyman, chief political adviser in the fictional Josiah Bartlet administration. "Leave it to churches and synagogues, and, of course, casinos and department stores."

Lyman chuckled and brushed off the suggestion.

Fast-forward more than a decade: A majority of Americans support same-sex marriage. The U.S. Supreme Court has legalized it. And amid ongoing battles pitting gay rights vs. religious liberty, some real-life lawmakers wonder if the answer might be removing the government from the process.

The Associated Press reports on a Missouri legislator's proposal to do just that:

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. (AP) — A Missouri Republican saw last year's debate over a proposed constitutional amendment that would have protected businesses that deny services to same-sex couples bring lawmakers to tears and grind legislative work to a halt. His solution: Take state government out of marriage completely, for both gay and heterosexual couples.
"You can stop spending so much emotional energy on the issue, and we can move on to other things," state Rep. T.J. Berry said, adding, "I'm treating everybody the exact same way and leaving space for people to believe what they believe outside of government."
His bill, filed ahead of the 2017 legislative session, would make Missouri the first state to recognize only domestic unions for both heterosexual and same-sex couples, treating legal partnerships equally and leaving marriages to be done by pastors and other religious leaders.

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