I was in the US this week for work and got to speak with many different people than I usually do while travelling: a Canadian sales rep (Sean who looked at my Cook Islands holiday snaps), an American sales rep (Dave) and a female high school student. Relationships came up in all conversations and really stuck in my head - probably because we just celebrated our 24 wedding anniversary and it was mentioned that same sex marriage is 5 years old in Canada.
I've never understood why people are against same sex marriage and got an opportunity to talk briefly about it with a conservative colleague for CA and in turn think about it some more. He took the stand that same sex marriage opens the door to so much other behaviour and asked if I had thought about the implications of my stand ... duh duh duhnnn. I asked if he meant cross species since that seems to be a talking point and I said our human rights legislation applies to just humans not animals. He came out with the statement that there should be marriage and civil unions and I agree - just not the way he's thinking.
I think traditional description of marriage is the perfect term currently in use in Canada. It's the blending of kin and assets into a discrete recognizable social and legal unit. Since it is an open ended contract, I agree there should be some age limits to make sure partners are aware of the responsibilities. Great step forward is that the partners are the people in the marriage instead of a patriarch/matriarch and an outsider. Since it's a legal entity, there should be a specified manner to recognize the partnership and there is, a marriage certificate has to be filed.
For the folk who are religious you can have the use of holy matrimony. You can use that term to exclude whoever you want because it's applicable to only your religious silo (yes that is a new business term coming into common use). Most people who have been exposed to religious institutions will know what you mean. Still you have to file a marriage certificate for the union to be legally recognized.
But what about civil unions? Every once in awhile the idea of a "term marriage" comes up and I think this is a good use for civil unions. I don't think it would be used for romantic relationships because everyone likes to think their love will last forever. It could help people form non-sexual kin groups for social support and extension of benefits such as insurance and financial considerations (loans, mortgages). It would benefit people, including siblings, who find themselves in crisis at the same time whether due to finances, sudden relationship changes or immigration.
I really like this idea of civil unions because it helps people form a social unit. I know it would be hard/impossible to monitor without a lot of intrusion into peoples personal lives. It would never fly in a country that has strong individualist tendencies but in a kinder gentler society perhaps it would.