TWO VIEWS • This week, Multnomah County began sanctioning same-sex marriages. Is it a legal imperative, or will it contribute to society's breakdown?

Now that gay marriages are taking place in Multnomah County, it's important to consider the subject matter in an objective context. For that reason, I believe it's important and logical to exclude religious considerations over gay marriage.

I say this because Americans enjoy and hold dear the separation of church and state. This was a hard-fought, critical issue for our nation's founders. As such, each individual's religious or spiritual beliefs in the debate over gay marriage represent a wholly separate issue.

This is especially true in light of the fact that many religious denominations, including those within Christianity and Judaism, are extremely divided over same-sex unions. Today, many religious groups perform same-sex unions or weddings and may recognize them as holy, while many others do not. Thus, the debate over religious aspects of same-sex unions is best left to appropriate religious leaders.

Likewise, for some gays and lesbians, recognition of their unions by their religious community is all they care about. These individuals, too, may disengage from the present discussion, choosing instead to protect their legal rights by preparing appropriate estate plans and power-of-attorney forms.

Some would argue that allowing legal marriage for gays and lesbians means an endorsement of the wide range of gay and lesbian lifestyles. But this is not precisely so. Certainly, gay couples express a continuum of behaviors similar to their heterosexual counterparts Ñ from mild to wild; from model citizens to the incarcerated.

As the benefits accruing to married couples have evolved over the years, so have the reasons gay couples want full legal equity. So we should not be surprised when unrelated adult couples of legal age desire to be considered the legal equals of their peers.

These couples pay taxes, raise children, contribute time and money to their communities, purchase homes, have medical and financial problems and try to hold their relationships together Ñ just like heterosexual couples.

My nearly 20-year career in the legal system has included working as a paralegal for a Seattle divorce lawyer. Countless couples insisted on hiring 'pit bull' lawyers to tear the other side 'to shreds.' Cases involving young children were horrific. Children frequently were used as pawns and go-betweens in their parents' fights. I could not believe these same couples had once walked down an aisle together professing their eternal love.

With more than half of all marriages in the United States ending in divorce, is there really anywhere to go but up? It is easy to blame outside forces; it is much less pleasant to take responsibility for our own actions. Instead of asking ourselves whether allowing gays and lesbians the same legal rights as married couples would destroy the family Ñ which already is imploding through divorce Ñ I think the more appropriate questions would be:

1. Would offering men and women with same-sex partners legal rights and obligations result in an overall healthier lifestyle and life choices?

2. Would legal recognition and its inescapable requirement for commitment reduce promiscuous sexual activity and the prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases?

3. If the gay or lesbian couple that I already personally know had legal rights, would it change my individual relationship with them in a negative way?

4. How many gay people do I know, and do I feel threatened by them?

Our judicial system's independence from the president (executive branch) and Congress (legislative branch) is a crucial part of our balance of powers system. Any respectable judge will evaluate this situation in light of state or federal constitutional law, excluding his or her own religious bias.

Aaron Kirk Douglas is a Portland-based professional services marketing consultant and documentary film producer. He lives in Northwest Portland.

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