A Clarification on My Position on Civil Marriage

Those of you who follow my Twitter feed noted an link to a CNBC article about why my contemporaries are cohabiting in their dotage.  I sensed a little pushback on Facebook on this, so I think that, in my advocacy for the abolition of civil marriage, some clarification is in order.

I do not think that it is “meet and right” (or “dignum et iustum” for you BCP and Latin fans) for people to have conjugal relations outside of Holy Matrimony, to say nothing of cohabitation.  The key there is “holy matrimony”; neither do I think that civil marriage and holy matrimony are one in the same.  The institution of marriage took place long before the formation of the state.  Since God made this institution, it makes sense that, in the current covenant, Christian people who are married in the sight of God should do so in the context of the church.  (That gets into the whole church authority issue; I’ve put it as broadly as I know how).

I think it is a serious mistake of Christian leaders to lose sight of that simple fact.  They have fought the battle for “traditional marriage” under the assumption that the state has the right to legitimise marriage (as have their opponents).  They have not understood that to have the power to legitimise marriage is the power to redefine it.  We have seen this in the changes in divorce, and learned nothing from that experience.  Now we are attempting to fend off same-sex civil marriage when we gave away the fundamental principle up front.

To make matters worse, the fear is out there that the government will force our ministers to officiate same-sex marriages.  That fear is well founded, because each time a minister officiates a marriage, they do so as agents of the state.  If the state says that same-sex marriages are OK, then failure to do so will be discriminatory.  (Ministers in countries with “two marriages” where they do not officiate on behalf of the state are relieved of that problem).

What churches need to do is to begin organising themselves to recognise Christian matrimony independent of the state.  Some churches and religious organisations, such as the RCC, are well positioned to do this.   How Evangelicals carry this out with their desultory organisation is hard to know, but given the stakes they’d better find out in a hurry.

Getting back to the subject of the CNBC article, much of what drives people’s decision on entering in to civil marriage depends upon their legal, estate and tax status and not on their doing it before God.  Doing the separation proposed above would end this kind of game.  One figure on the religious left has slammed the door on this: Episcopal Bishop of Southeast Florida Leo Frade is happy to officiate same-sex blessings, but refuses to do so for opposite sex couples, who face many of the issues described in the CNBC piece.

Hopefully this will put some of my friends at ease on this subject.  Others will find this objectionable, but after years of experience dealing with the legal system in this country, I refuse to revert to a more naïve view of same, a view that drives much of the insanity of our political discussion.

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