17 September 2011

Hey, That Was My Idea!

Only I did not do anything about, so all I can do is mope. But the short version is that I have been saying the same thing as this fellow from DC:

Separation of church and state in marriage? - The Washington Post

Why should religion be in the legal marriage business at all? In a nation with an established religion, this makes sense (to the extent that established religions make sense at all). But when religion is separate from the state, formally and legally, then why should clergy have the power to do legal marriages?

As the article says, other nations do this without falling into ruin. A brief study about why such historically religious states as France and Germany now actually prohibit clergy from legally marrying people is a great case study in why separating church and state makes sense. A deeper study of how marriage got to be a religious concession is also informative. Let’s just say that practice existed before theory and law came after that. My DC colleague begs the question of why we should have the legal power at all, and I agree with him.

Now, it was fun when I was a baby clergyman to sign licenses, because it meant I was a ‘real’ clergyman. Now, a credit card and an internet connection can make you as ‘legal’ as any bishop, and in some states anyone can preside over a particular ceremony with the consent of those getting married. The coolness has has been completely lost.

The only reason, theologically that is, for clergy to retain the right to marry people legally is to make that religion’s notion of marriage legal. It is to enlist the state to support with the law a particular religious point of view. If it were not so well established by history it would not pass scrupulous constitutional muster.

I do not expect things to change because one or two folks like me exist. But it may be time to start thinking about why we do it this way, and whether it is wise in lots of ways.

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