Whether you like it or not, the battle to “preserve traditional marriage” is over. Gay marriage in America is here to stay. Some will argue that until it’s settled with the U.S. Supreme Court, the battle isn’t over, but, truthfully, it is. Proponents of Prop 8, here in CA, acted far too late to stop what is viewed as a constitutional right from being enacted. How late? Try about two centuries.
It was in the 1800s that states (including California) insisted that marriages be “state sanctified.” The government began issuing its own marriage licenses and giving incentives to those who were married verses those simply cohabitating. It was also at this time the “Justice of the Peace” began performing state-approved civil marriages, void of any religious doctrine. Consequently, all religious institutions were required (with the exception of the Quakers) to obtain a marriage license from the state to legalize the unions performed in each religious ceremony.
Once the marriage between church and state were united together, the idea for marriage as a covenant between God and the couple was abolished. The state now owned the right to grant and abolish marriages legally. To attempt, two centuries later, to make marriage strictly about religion is far too late. Marriage isn’t solely a religious sacrament anymore nor has it been for nearly the past two centuries.
Even today, in marriage ceremonies performed in churches, by whose power is the marriage granted? “By the power invested in me by the State of California, I now pronounce you…” It’s not by the power of God, it’s the power of the state that grants marriages and once this state and country gave that power over the government, the battle to “preserve marriage” was lost.
Stuart Koehl, in his article “An Independent Witness to Marriage” at Fristthings.com (Published by the Institute on Religion and Public Life, an interreligious, nonpartisan research and education institute), makes the case that we should return to the pre-Constantinian period (prior to the fourth century) where church weddings are purely a sacramental matter, subject to the doctrine and disciplines of the Church, but without legal standing. Legal recognition of marriage would become a purely civil matter. A couple who wanted to marry would have to get a license and go to a civil magistrate. If they then wanted their union sacramentalized, they would go to the Church. If the Church refused to marry them because they did not meet its criteria for a sacramental wedding—if both parties were of the same sex, for example—the state could do nothing about it, since the Church is a voluntary association protected by the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. This could provide the freedom the Church needs to reshape marriage in a way political and legal activism will not, and cannot.
Koehl makes the case that unless we do this, any institution that refuses to perform a marriage between gay couples would be violating their civil rights. This could, in turn, lead to a repeal of the churches’ tax exempt status and lead us further down that “slippery slope” so many churches are fearful of.
This issue needs to be a reminder to all of us how very important the separation of church and state really is. When we allow government intervention into matters of the church, the church (any church) loses. This is simply another case of where religion has allowed the government to step in and erode the work the church should be doing.
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See similar articles from this Examiner on the “Separation of Church and State”:
“The Government is Not God; America’s Dependence on Govt is Killing Religion”
“Churches are called to bring Social Justice not the Government”
“The Supreme Court, Angry Atheists & the Separation of Church & State”
“Healthcare Vote is an Indictment against Religion”
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