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Proposition 8 – Contracts vs Sacraments

When I wrote “Civil Unions for Everyone!” the other day I didn’t expect the decision on California’s Proposition 8 to come so soon.

In short, a federal judge struck down the proposition that defined marriage as a union between one man and one woman. I’m already seeing a lot of tweets that address the number “1″ but today that’s a red herring. (The slippery slope being what it is it will eventually be an issue, but it’s not today’s issue.) The decision may be stayed while it is appealed, but I would be surprised if it were ultimately overturned.

The Anchoress, unsurprisingly, speaks a great deal of sense on the issue. You should read, as they say, the whole thing:

As I say, an expected ruling, given the narrowing of perspective. It is counter-intuitive to 5,000 years of human cultural understanding, but we’ve seen a lot of that, these past 40-or-so years.

My first thought: the churches–any of them who wish to remain free to practice their faith in relative freedom–will have to seriously consider getting out of the business of acting as “duly recognized” agents of the state in legalizing marriages. The alternative will be inevitable lawsuits charging “discrimination” for disallowing church weddings, a diminution of our constitutional right to free worship, and a further emptying of church coffers as settlements and fines are levied.

She argues the religious freedom issue, and this is more important than I can say. I entirely agree with her about that, but there is a different argument that I wish to make.

The Anchoress begins:

In an utterly unsurprising ruling, and one that is inarguable if one is peering through the narrowed prism of stringently secular law, and reducing marriage to a sort of contractual partnering,

As I argued last week the interests of the state actually are contractual:

The interest in the state in a marriage is all of the legal things- Property, care and custody of children, inheritance (property again,) rights to access things like insurance, visitation rights at a hospital, the right to make decisions for a partner who is incapacitated, and taxes (property yet again.)

The state is interested in paperwork, orderliness. This interest is served by civil unions.

But marriage is a sacrament. Not a word a Baptist uses all that often, but all the more important to bear in mind because we use it so rarely. It is a sacred promise before God to your spouse, both families, your friends and the community. “Forsaking all others, cleave only to Thee” or some variation thereof. It is a religious sacrament, and the state should not be administering religious sacraments.

Even if you are of a non-Christian religion when you got married you probably went to a special place, stood before some version of holy man or holy woman, wore special clothes, had family and friends around, and made exclusive promises to each other. You invoked what was sacred to you.

(Even agnostics and some atheists have similar weddings because of tradition. They have the trappings of the sacred even if they don’t believe in the sacred.)

As I noted in a previous post, my wife and I were legally married before a Justice of the Peace before my brother (who had not yet been ordained) performed the religious ceremony. We weren’t trying to be trend setters, things just worked out that way. But it worked for us, and it is time for the rest of the country to try it.

It’s long past time we divided the sacred from the profane. The state shouldn’t meddle in the sacred. To protect the sacred we must make the distinction ourselves. The alternative is for the state to destroy the sacred.


One Response to “Proposition 8 – Contracts vs Sacraments”

  1. jh says:

    As I commented at the Anchoress site I think the whole Church getting out of the Legal side of the marriage business is a red herring we focus to much time on.

    We are way past the Loving Opinion and I don’t think a lot of Churches that refuse to marry Interracial couples have lost their tax exemption or are forced to go against their beliefs.

    There is a difference between Freedom of Worship (what is happening in my Catholic Church’s four walls) and Freedom of Religion where I can practice my faith and express it freely in society as a whole. Opinions like this and where they lead deals with that larger issue.

    On a related note

    I really don’t see under the current arrangement how the State is interfering just because the Minister can perform a Ceremony and licensed by Law to officated

    In reality that is just saving the couple a few extra bucks so you don’t have to have two ceremonies- One legal one religious. (That is in States such as Louisiana where some type of Ceremony is required)

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