Wednesday, June 30, 2010

On marriage: Mind your own business

It wasn't until I was in seminary that I heard for the first time the notion that "the church should get out of the marriage business." The argument is that if marriage is a civil contract related to property and inheritance rights, taxation and other financial issues, and custody concerns, then that's really a state issue. The church's job should be to counsel and bless.

It wasn't until same sex marriage became an issue that I started hearing that "the government should get out of the marriage business." The argument here is that if marriage is indeed a sacrament, then it is completely inappropriate for the government to provide such a thing.

A number of years ago, I remember hearing from friends about their daughter's wedding in Costa Rica. They told me that it was in two parts: the legal wedding, performed by a judge, and then the religious ceremony. I was looking this morning to see if I had indeed remembered this correctly. This answer is, sort of. "The catholic priests are the only "pastors" of any religion who have the legal authority to carry out a marriage. For this reason, protestant parishioners must first get a civil marriage and then proceed with the religious ceremony," apparently.

It seems to me that one of the complications to this issue is that both the church and the state have a role in the wedding business. Marriage has a legal meaning. It also has a spiritual meaning. The problem is that we've squished them together. They really don't fit.

I agree that the church should be out of the marriage business: the part that decides on the legal ramifications, the financial entanglements, and the general "what does this mean in a court of law" questions, and marks the relationship with red tape.

I also agree that the government should be out of the marriage business: the part that blesses and prays for people, and marks the relationship with religious ceremony.

Of the two, the faith side has the mushier job, which seems in keeping with the fact that people have many different faiths. Getting married should mean the exact same thing for everyone, legally, but will mean vastly different things for people, religiously. Isn't that the way it is already?

I personally would love to see the Costa Rica two-step process for everybody. Everybody is legally married in front of a judge with a set kind of swearing-in and then, separately, have whatever kind of religious ceremony suits them best. Well, I can dream, can't I?

My two cents.

My further two cents on church wedding issues.


Lorin said...

They have the two-step process for everyone in Argentina. My former neighbor was from Buenos Aires and she explained their process to me. She was actually surprised that we got married both ways (civil and religious) at the same time.

Anonymous said...

They do the same thing in Germany. I loved seeing the fancy "Cinderella" horse-drawn coaches pull up in front of the Rathaus for the civil ceremony!

Steve Hayes said...

I believe that the State should get out of the marriage business -- more details here: Notes from underground: The State should get out of the marriage business