Civil Marriage: When the State Becomes God

Last week I posted a piece on why it’s important not to get too trimphalistic on the French rejection of same sex civil marriage.  That brought a long series of comments from “MichaelPS” who is obviously very familiar with French jurisprudence on this subject.  One of his observations was as follows:

It is significant that, in a country so committed to the principle of laïcité as France, no one has suggested that Carbonnier’s views, or those of the Court of Appeal, are either the result of religious convictions or an attempt to import them into his interpretation of the Code.

I think there is a reasonable explanation of this. It goes along with my contention that “…their (the French’s) “Cartesian” logic isn’t quite as Cartesian as they think!”

For much of its post-Roman Empire history, Europe did without civil marriage.  The church married people.  God married Adam and Eve without the assistance of the state, so why shouldn’t God’s church have the same prerogative?  In France, this overwhelmingly meant the Roman Catholic Church, a bête noire of all “enlightened” people.

When same illuminated got the upper hand in the French Revolution, they basically nationalised marriage.   Now people could not be or consider themselves married without the approbation of the state; clerics could not even act as agents of the state in the process, nor get ahead of it.  Le maire stepped into God’s place before the couple.  The state became God, in this way at least (and in many others as well, more so now than in the wake of the storming of the Bastille).

In doing this the progressively secular French state took a religious institution unto itself.  It should be no surprise that “religious convictions” infiltrate its defence of same institution.  Their use of paternity to defend the opposite sex nature of marriage, although based on Roman law, is congenial to defenders of “traditional” marriage on this side of the Atlantic as well.

This assumption of deity by the state is one of my main objections as a Christian to civil marriage.  With this understanding, I find it difficult to understand why Christians and others of faith are so intent on keeping the state’s hand on marrige.  Beyond becoming God, the state which can insitute marriage can redefine it to suit its own purpose.  It takes someone who is awfully triumphalistic to think that our secular governments can be expected to maintain a Christian definition of marriage.  After all, they certainly have bailed on a Christian view of divorce!

Some of you will say that this is all about the French.  And I must confess that I view many issues in life through a Gallic lens.  But the assumption of deity by the state isn’t restricted to the hexagon, it’s just easier to see there.

In the Anglophone world the drift towards civil marriage=marriage has been driven by a number of factors, not the least of which is the accomodation of religious dissenters, who recoil in horror at the thought of becoming man and wife (or doing much of anything else) in the confines of the state church.  The Americans really took things to a new level by totally unifying the act of civil marriage and Holy Matrimony, a practice they picked up from Calvin’s theocratic Geneva.  As befits the English speaking peoples, it’s a more desultory process and the appearances conceal the reality, but the result is the same.

But that’s the way the frog is boiled in old Albion and its progeny: put the frog in the pot and bring the temperature up slowly so that the frog doesn’t know what’s going on until it’s too late.  The French, on the other hand, bring the water to a boil, then throw the frog in and slam the lid on real fast.  The frog is just as dead one way or another, and that’s becoming the case with Holy Matrimony.

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