I live in the state that, on November 4, made it impossible for gay couples to marry. While Prop 8 in California got most of the national attention, many people forget that 27 states have passed similar legislation. I am not here to discuss the pros and cons of gay marriage, but the national mood is quite clear. I can understand the frustration of the gay community; votes like this make it very clear that the majority of Americans still see their lifestyle as either immoral, or inappropriate. To be told that what you are doing is wrong, again and again, and by millions of people, must be maddening. As Americans we are told that we must not discriminate, but as Christians we are told that we must judge right from wrong. This is where the church and state collide. The gay community does not seem to want to admit that the fundamental conflict is that the majority of Americans believe that the gay lifestyle is immoral, and should not be encouraged. Most politically aware Christians feel this conflict deeply and have had to make uncomfortable choices between their political and religious beliefs. I know many friends who voted for Prop 8 but privately hoped that it would be defeated. They wanted to vote for the morally correct choice in their hearts, but have the politically comfortable solution win at the ballot box.
However, the behavior of the protesters in California, defacing churches, attacking parishioners, vandalism, disruption of church services, etc., is a horrible way to get conservative and middle-of-the-road voters on your side.
But, enough about that.
The real reason for this post is to explore an idea I had in responding to an older post by Lisa about the election and the gay marriage issue.
Most of my Christian friends object to gay marriage because, they see it as a redefinition of a sacred covenant between a man, a woman, and God. They do not see marriage as a civil contract, but as a spiritual commitment, and being in the spiritual realm, they believe that moral judgments are valid. They do not want gay couples marrying because they believe that gay people are living an immoral lifestyle, and therefore should not be allowed into a sacred, holy, union before God. And, let me clarify, that when I say "God" I am speaking of a Christian deity, the father of Jesus Christ, and the author of the Old and New Testament. I do not know, and therefore do not claim to represent, the moral teachings of non-Christian faiths. I also acknowledged that that there are many Christian faiths that support gay marriage, but they have to admit, in doing that, they are taking a very loose, very modern interpretation of the Scriptures, one that is focused on the concept of "universal love" instead of the concepts of laws, obedience, and consequences as taught in the Old and New Testament. Jesus Christ taught that the way to heaven was, in fact, a very narrow, and that people had to sacrifice their own free will to remain on the path and get through the gates of heaven.
The "universal love" concept of God ignore 95% of the Scriptures that teach that true discipleship is based on obedience to the laws and commandments given by Jesus, which were built on the fundamental laws of the Old Testament.
But again I digress. Here is my main question and the reason for this post.
I would like to propose the separation of the religious and civil aspects of marriage.
What if the US shifted to a system similar to many in Europe, where EVERY couple had to get married civilly before they got married in a church?
The church wedding would be stripped of its legal status and becomes a gesture between the couple and God, and not a legally binding action.
The civil marriage would be a legal action and not a moral one, God would be taken out of the process for non-believers, and those who wanted to have a church wedding would be free to do what ever they wanted. They could freely, and without fear of litigation, marry only those whom they chose to marry, since it was a legally irrelevant ceremony.
- Would the churches accept this new role if it meant that the gay community could no longer complain?
- Would they willingly give up the power to legally wed to people?
- What would this do to the marriage industry if every marriage was a civil transaction at the courthouse?
- Would the culture of lavish church weddings diminish if every couple was already married civilly?
- Would this increase or decrease divorce rates if "couples" were defined by a sterile contract?
- Would it be easier to get married if it was such a low-key affair?
- Would people be more prone to get divorced if getting married was "no big deal”?
- When fewer people go to church, knowing that their priest was no longer the arbiter of their wedding day?
- Would the religious communities influence diminish because they no longer controlled anything but the ceremonial aspect?
I'm not sure of the answers to any of these questions, but a simple shift from a religious ceremony with legal implications to a situation where they are separate, would have interesting, but and far-reaching effects.
I would love to hear your ideas and thoughts on this issue.