Divorcing Marriage

Apparently, over in that sunny land of movie stars and cyborg overlords (known as California), something called “Proposition 8” passed.  (If you ask me, it sounds like the name of one of Dr. Evil’s master plans, probably involving a phallic spaceship and some kind of meteor, or maybe an overambitious hooker.)

From what my limited understanding can grasp, “Proposition 8” had something to do with a statewide ban on gay marriage, or with defining marriage as being between only a man and a woman, or something to that effect.  And the fact that it passed (by something like 52% to 48%) has all sorts of people very upset.  (I saw a comment on Revelife where someone was wondering if it’s possible to “appeal.”  How does one appeal a statewide voter referendum?  Recount?)

I. Could You Repeat The Question?

What is it with this “War  on  over Marriage” anyway?

See, there are those (both LGBT and non-) who believe that marriage is a “right” that all (consenting) people (of legal age) should have.  And then there are those (not all religious, though the religious ones seem to be the figurehead for this stance) who believe that marriage should be something that occurs only between a man and a woman.

And the fight goes on.

Well?  What is it?  Is marriage a right for all?  What is marriage, anyway?

Let’s try dictionary.com

1. the social institution under which a man and woman establish their decision to live as husband and wife by legal commitments, religious ceremonies, etc.


2. the state, condition, or relationship of being married; wedlock: a happy marriage.


3. the legal or religious ceremony that formalizes the decision of a man and woman to live as husband and wife, including the accompanying social festivities: to officiate at a marriage.

(and some others that don’t concern us as much)

Pinky, are you pondering what I’m pondering?  Look–do you see it?!

One word, two little letters.  “or”

Legal “or” religious ceremony.  Acknowledged by the state “or” by religious authority.  “Legal commitments,” comma, “religious ceremonies,” comma, “etc.,” indicating that “Legal commitments” and “Religious ceremonies” are two separate elements in a list.

The two are not the same.

What we have here, ladies and gentlemen, are two kinds of marriage.  The former is legal: the state acknowledgement of a union between two property-owning individuals.  The latter is religious: the church (temple/mosque/coven) acknowledgement of a union between two souls that is blessed by God/gods/Goddess/Xenu.

This War on Marriage is between two groups that quite often are using different conceptions of the contested issue.

II.  Splitting Up

Was marriage originally in the purview of the State or of Religion?  It’s hard to say.  For the ancient Greeks it seems to have been neither: all that was required for marriage was mutual consent or familial consent (not unlike “common law” marriages.  In Europe, it is not until the rise of Christianity that marriage became a religious thing (with the Christian Roman emperors banning same-sex marriage in 342 A.D., for example, or the Council of Trent declaring that marriage needed two witnesses in 1545).  And it isn’t until John Calvin’s day that any European nation had state involvement in marriage.  In England in 1837, legal marriage became an alternative to religious marriage…  and today we have the two as separate (though indistinct) events.

Much is talked about The Separation of Church and State.  (Which is not always opposed by Christians: I myself am highly in favor of the Separation of Church and State.  It is, in fact, a Baptist Distinctive.)  If we hold that a Separation between Church and State is good, does it not also hold that there must be a Separation of Church-Marriage and State-Marriage?

In short: the issues which should be under the governance of State-Marriage should be financial, legal and social; the issues which should be under the governance of Religious-Marriage should be ethical and spiritual.  And the two should be very separate, entirely distinct institutions, in which the one cannot tell the other whom they can and cannot accept.

What am I saying?

I’m saying we need to divorce Marriage from Marriage.  The two forms of marriages are under the purview of two separate institutions with separate goals, and should reflect that.  (Perhaps we need different names.)

I’m saying that the government should only deny State-marriage to people if such a marriage violates the goals and purpose of the government: that is, if it would infringe on someone’s Life, Liberty, or Right To Property (such as in a marriage involving someone below legal age or involving a non consenting partner).  Marriage is not a right–I wish people would stop saying it was–but it’s also something that the government should have a good reason for denying.  All the government needs to be concerned with is the protection of its citizens’ life, liberty, and right to property–vague concepts like “decency,” when separated from their religious/ethical sources, become nonsensical when they are used in government. The function and purpose of government is to protect its citizens and its citizens’ rights.  Going strictly by that as a guideline, there are only a few reasons that would justify denying someone State-marriage.

I’m saying that the Church (or mosque, or temple, or synagogue) should have the ability to deny Church-marriage if granting such a marriage violates the goals and purposes of that Church.  The purpose of Religion is to honor its Deity(ies): a Christian church’s goal is to glorify God, a mosque’s goal is to glorify Allah, a coven’s goal is to glorify the Goddess and her Consort, etc.  And it is the individual denomination that dictates how God/Allah/Goddess is best glorified.  Thus, whether a church allows gay (or polygamous, act.) Church-marriage should be contingent on whether that church’s faith understands such a Church-marriage to be glorifying to its Deity(ies).  (And if a church decides that granting gay marriage does not glorify God, that is the affair of that church and its members and should be no concern of the state.  And if a church decides that granting marriage to a group that the state denies marriage to does glorify God, it also should be the affair of the church and no concern of the state.)

III.  Objection!  /  Lewis Weighs In

Some LGBTs or their proponents may object to my stance as still denying them something.  They might object that I’m saying they can have State-marriage but not Church-marriage, I’m treating them as seperate-but-equal, it’s no better than “civil unions.”

To which I say: Who’s denying you anything I don’t deny myself?  I’m saying each institution’s marriage-granting should directly stem from that institution’s purposes.  And frankly I don’t see anything that impedes the government’s purpose if it grants State-marriage to gay marriages (or to polygamous marriages, or polyandrous marriages) provided all concerned are of legal age and are consenting.  Whether a Church will grant a gay couple a Church-marriage is up to the individual Church.  If a gay couple finds a religion or denomination that is willing to grant them Church-marriage, then so be it.  (But that’s nothing that’s not on myself: if I were openly violating a tenant of my church, such as sleeping with my fiancee before our wedding, and there was no repentance, my pastor would refuse to conduct our wedding ceremony.)

On the flip side, some Christians may object to my stance on this as being a bad compromise–that I’m throwing the issue to the LGBTs.  They argue that marriage is a sacred institution (to which I argue, Church-marriage is) and needs to be protected.  To which I say, Yes–marriage needs to be protected–but not by the government.

It’s funny: C.S. Lewis speaks to this issue perfectly.  Well, he wasn’t really speaking to this issue: he was talking about British citizens who were Christian campaigning for stricter divorce laws.  But it fits so well.  Let’s see what Lewis has to say.

“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question — how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one.

“I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mahommedans [Muslims] tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives

There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.”

–C.S. Lewis, Mere Christianity (emphasis mine)

Christians, listen up.  America is a democratic republic, and thus we are supposed to vote our conscience when we elect leaders.  But at the end of the day, government is only government.  We can’t use government to enforce Christian ethics on nonChristians, and we shouldn’t expect nonChristians to act like Christians.

We cannot base our government on God’s perfect law (which would make criminals of us all anyway–remember Jesus?).  At best we can base our government–as it was originally intended to be based–on natural law, on the idea of universal human rights which the government is supposed to protect.

Therefore, we as Christians should not attempt to impose the realities of Church-marriage onto State-marriage, or on Church-marriage from other faiths.  Yes–I believe that my faith teaches that marriage is supposed to be between a man and a woman.  But that is something that my church must enforce on its members, not that my government needs to enforce on its citizens.  Yes–I believe that divorce shatters families and, if possible, should be avoided.  But that is something my church must teach its members, not that my government needs to enforce on its citizens.

[Edited to add:]
I’m tired of fighting for the soul of society.  We Christians are not called to do that, no matter what religion the Founding Fathers adhered to.  We need to jettison this idea that America is a “Christian nation” and that it is up to us to keep her Christian–that’s not our purpose.  We’re not supposed to be of the world, remember?  Our purpose as Christians is to make disciples of all nations–to fight for the souls of individuals.  Give society up: it’s a lost cause.

IV.  A Rose By Any Other Name…

So I agree with Lewis.  We need to have a sharp, clear distinction between Church-marriage–the religious institution, specifically (in my case) the Christian institution–and State-marriage–the economic and social institution.

Part of the problem is that we call both “marriage.”  It’s like the they’re/their/there confusion.

So why not change one of their names, or both?

Frankly I’m all for letting “marriage” be a solely religious idea, and let the social/economic union of two people just be called a “civil union” with all the secular rights and privileges and social status of “marriage.”  But I know the LGBTs and others object to that–they say by denying them the word we’re making them “second-class citizens.”

So I say let’s change the Church’s word.  “Marriage” can be the secular idea of two people living together, having a sexual relationship, pooling their bank accounts, raising a family.  But let’s have a different word to mean “A God-blessed union.”  (Perhaps a greek word, like “theogamy?”)


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