Lost among all of the Ebola related headlines are many other issues which should be addressed. One in particular is the current controversy in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho over two Christian pastors who have been threatened with fines and jail time for refusing to perform same-sex marriages. Of course, this attack on religious liberty is something many of us have seen coming for quite some time and I assure you more will soon follow. The fault here is lies not with proponents of same-sex marriage, but with churches who have allowed themselves to become government agencies with respect to marriage.
Christians define marriage as a union between one man and one woman in obedience to God, while government sees marriage as a union between to consenting adults to create a legal status. For generations churches have been conducting wedding ceremonies to create their definition of a marriage, and at the same time have acted as an agency of the government in creating the legal union. Until now that has not posed a problem because the definition of marriage had not been called into question, and it was a convenient way to kill two birds with one stone. The fact is however, this tradition blurred the line of separation between church and state that should never have been allowed to exist.
By allowing pastors to become “marriage officials”, churches have unwittingly turned control of their definition of marriage over to the government. Regardless of the religious beliefs of a particular church, by acting as a party to the legal definition of marriage they put themselves in a position to be sanctioned for discriminatory practices. Churches are allowed to hold positions against same-sex marriage, but in most states now governments are not. The only way to resolve this issue is to make a clean break between the religion based institution of marriage created by a church and the legal status of marriage established by the government.
If Larry and Mary want to be married and have their marriage blessed by their church in front of their family and friends, they should be able to do so as long as their church is willing to perform the ceremony. If the couple wishes to have their union blessed by the government in the form of a legal status, they need only stop by the local courthouse and file the necessary paperwork to demonstrate they can be legally married according to the laws of their state, and have a local government official such as the Justice of the Peace make it official. If Ron and John want to do the same thing, they should be able to go through the same process, and as long as they find a church that is willing to perform the ceremony and a state where the law allows them to do so, they can be married.
This process would work fine if pastors of Christian churches were not acting as a legal representative of the government, in effect creating a ‘marriage of convenience’ between church and state. As far as I can tell, the only purpose in this arrangement is to simplify the marriage process so that a couple only has to be married once in order to obtain the benefits of each definition of marriage. I am all about convenience and simplifying a process when possible, but this particular simplification seems to have complicated things a little more than people expected.
This marriage of convenience between church and state was good while it lasted, but the two parties have grown apart. Undoubtedly it is time for them to divorce because of irreconcilable differences.