Is it time for the church to leave the marriage business?
In light of today's news (June 26, 2013) that the Supreme Court of the United States has struck down the Defense of Marriage Act, we're revisiting this post on the topic from 2008.
Is it time for clergy to get out of the wedding business? An article in the Sacramento Bee describes a growing sense in some California churches that the traditional "church marriage" ceremony should be reconsidered:
The controversy over same-sex marriage – along with a growing sense that many couples who marry in churches never return – has prompted faith leaders to say it's time to reconsider how California couples tie the knot.
After the California Supreme Court ruled gay marriage legal, the bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of California began encouraging all couples to marry outside the church.
"I urge you to encourage all couples, regardless of orientation, to follow the pattern of first being married in a secular service, and then being blessed in the Episcopal Church," Bishop Marc Handley Andrus wrote his clergy June 9.
The ideas described in the article center around offloading legal marriage ceremonies to the state, and allowing married couples to then optionally have their union blessed in a separate church ceremony (if the church approves). Proponents of the idea say that this would allow churches to stay out of messy legal quandaries about same-sex marriage laws, while still allowing churches to recognize and bless marriages that fit their spiritual criteria. And it would also address the common situation in which (sometimes unbelieving) couples are married in churches they'll never attend again.
Is that a good idea?
I am unsure if this would help with the "drive-by marriage" problem, simply because so many couples (religious or otherwise) feel family or social pressure to get married in a church, even if they don't attend the church and don't believe in (or live by) Biblical principles. But there is a certain appeal in removing the church from the legal side of marriage, and disentangling it from the legal/civic side of the same-sex marriage controversy.
Here are a few questions to think about:
- What is your church's response to engaged couples who want to get married in your church, but whose religious beliefs or lifestyles conflict with your church's teachings?
- Does your church require engaged couples to attend counseling or worship services before getting married in the church?
- In your view, is it better for a church to turn away a couple that doesn't meet its standards for marriage, or is it better to marry the couple and just try to be a good witness in the process?
- Do you think there should be a stronger distinction between the state's legal recognition of marriage, and the church's moral recognition?