The argument over gay marriage, like many arguments in America, has been falsely presented as a single, binary issue: one is either for or against legalizing gay marriage.
On one side of the dichotomy are the "social conservatives" who believe that marriage can only exist between a man and a woman, and that the law should reflect that reality.
On the other side are gay marriage proponents, who believe that two people of the same gender have every right to disagree with social conservatives about what marriage is, and that our nation's laws should include their definition of marriage as well.
But one thing that pundits, activists, and politicians often fail to consider is that the legal debate over gay marriage is distinct from the philosophical debate.
Whatever your view of the nature of marriage, it is not necessary to legally force that view on the rest of us.
Instead of legalizing gay marriage, what if each state de-legalized straight marriage? Why after all, should the state define what many consider to be a private, religious question?
The very notion of a marriage license is repugnant to the American ideals of freedom and self-determination. Why should anyone have to go begging permission from the government to be married?
Historically, this was not always the case. Many states started meddling in the issue of marriage only to meddle in the issue of race and deny licenses to interracial couples that desired to marry. By the 1920s, thirty-eight states prohibited interracial marriage in this manner.
Any government policy that has its basis in the era and mindset of Jim Crow should be repudiated and abolished, including the government's regulation of matters so private and personal as sex and marriage.
If the state simply privatized marriage, homosexuals would be able to define marriage for themselves without facing discrimination from a tax code that favors married couples in a legal system that only recognizes heterosexual marriage. Singles would benefit too, as their choice to remain single would also receive equal treatment from our tax codes.
Meanwhile, conservatives should be happy to find the government regulating one less thing, and social conservatives should enjoy a system of law wherein the government no longer usurps their God or church's role as the arbiter and administrator of their sacred institution of marriage.
This is what a tolerant, pluralistic society looks like. This is what America is supposed to be like. Both sides can and should be happy, if only they will tolerate each other. Tolerance doesn't mean accepting each other's definitions of marriage as correct, it simply means not forcing one's own view of marriage on everybody else.
If we privatize marriage, the tax code would apply equally to everyone, with no special subsidies for whichever kinds of marriage the state happens to support. There would be no licensing to get married. Individual people, churches, and other private intitutions would decide for themselves what constitutes a marriage.
Any wills or legal contracts between individuals would, of course, be upheld by the state's courts just as they are now. So leaving money to a loved one (of either gender) or writing a prenuptial agreement would simply be a matter of the state enforcing contracts, not defining social constructs.
All the blather about civil unions and whether or not to legalize gay marriage completely ignores a very practical and tolerant solution that would please both sides of the debate.
Privatizing marriage will solve the problem... and then we can finally stop hearing about it.