Re: Shapes of a Wedge

From: William Hamilton <>
Date: Sun May 23 2004 - 16:13:05 EDT

On Sunday, May 23, 2004, at 02:47 PM, George Murphy wrote:
Quoting me
>> I'm still thinking about this, but I wonder if the problem is not that
>> the state calls the licenses it issues "marriage licenses" and that a
>> ceremony performed by a government official is called a "marriage
>> ceremony". The state of course has a legitimate interest in
>> registering marriages and, perhaps, other long-term unions where there
>> are children, either by artificial insemination or adoption. But
>> calling a union not performed by clergy under the rules of a religion
>> marriage may be intrusion by the state into the domain of religion.
> I don't think so. While the Bible shows an obvious interest in
> marriage, there is nothing there to indicate that a marriage is
> something
> that has to be performed or approved in a distinctively religious way.
> Marriage is essentially a civil arrangement, an aspect of "the kingdom
> of
> God's left hand" in Luther's terminology - which does not mean that the
> church has no interest in it.
> The idea that the state marries people is also problematic:
> It is a
> man and woman who marry one another, not a judge or a pastor. (In the
> marriage service of the Lutheran Book of Worship the presiding
> minister does
> not say "I now pronounce you husband and wife" but "A and B, by their
> promises before God and in the presence of this congregation, have
> bound
> themselves to one another as husband and wife.") The Genesis creation
> accounts suggest that marriage has a priority over the state.

I think we're on the same wavelength. The original statement about
marriage in Genesis does indeed make marriage a compact between a man
and a woman before God. Since marriages produce children who need
nurture and education and may come in line for an inheritance, the
state has a legitimate interest in tracking marriages, and even in
premarital counseling (encouraging it, not performing it) but it's easy
for the state to become too entangled with what should be between
husband, wife and God.
> The church got enmeshed in the marriage business partly
> because of
> its hankering to police sex and partly as an aspect of its
> Constantinian
> bargain with the state whereby clergy serve as officials of the state.
> (Clergy do that whenever they sign the document that says that they
> "performed a marriage" and send it back to the court.) In many ways it
> would be good if we could get out of that business, bless marriages
> when
> appropriate, and leave all the legalities to the state. The downside
> of
> that would be that couples would be even less likely to get any serious
> pre-marital counselling and preparation than they do now.

Not necessarily. Some states have passed laws encouraging premarital
counseling (although the results are sometimes a bit laughable. My son
got married in Tennessee to a Christian woman from a Christian family.
They met at church and courted for a year or so, but by the time Brett
got around to formally proposing it was getting close to the time they
had agreed they would like to get married, and they couldn't squeeze in
counseling. So the state charged them something like an extra $90.00
for their marriage license)
Bill Hamilton Rochester, MI 248 652 4148
Received on Sun May 23 16:13:41 2004

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