A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Friday, June 26, 2015
The Supreme Court and Same-Sex Marriage
The Facebook posts regarding the Supreme Court’s decision to declare the legality of same-sex marriage across the US have been predictably interesting. Like many others, I’ve been thinking about this topic for quite some time, and I am going to weigh in with my own observation and recommendations, at least for those who operate in the realm of the Christian community.
For a very long time, clergy have officiated at weddings in a dual representative capacity. On the one hand, they represent the Christian church; on the other hand they represent the State (as in , The Government). We often provide evidence of this dual representation by closing the ceremony with words like these:
“By the power invested in me by the church of Jesus Christ and the State of XXX, I now pronounce you husband and wife.”
Whether those words are spoken exactly that way or not, the dual agency is real.
I’ve officiated at quite a few weddings, all in the state of California. It is humbling to me that when I say the words that declare the marriage of the two people standing before me, it has the power of law. Upon my word, at that moment in time, those people are married to each other. The Church and State both back me on this.
This is a powerful reality because I sign the marriage license sometime later in the day, mail it off a few days later, and the County Recorder enters it into some computer within the following weeks. Nevertheless, those folks were married the second I said they were married. The Church and State both grant me that authority.
Church and State in the US have had this complicit relationship for many years and everyone’s been pretty much okay about it.
We religious folks have long believed that marriage is our business. That is, we see marriage as a sacred bond and, therefore, part of our turf. Up until recently, Church and State have been in agreement about what constitutes a marriage (we have had some conflict with the State about what constitutes a divorce, but we somehow got comfortable with that one).
As of this morning, the Federal government has sent all religious people—regardless of their views on same-sex marriage—this message:
“We own marriage. You do not.”
And, apparently, they are right.
So maybe this is an opportunity for Christian leaders to reflect in some new ways about our relationship with the State and with the culture at large. Perhaps we’ve been complicit with the State when it suits us, but have expressed outrage when the State reveals its true character as the dominant power structure in the US.
So here’s what I’m thinking. Consider these words of Jesus:
“ . . . if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well.” (Matthew 5:40)
I know this text is addressing the issue of retaliation, but perhaps we can allow it to inform our thinking on the issue of marriage. The State has taken our coat—the definition of marriage—as its own. Maybe its time for us to hand the State our cloak as well—that is, our role as agents of the State in the performance of marriages.
In other words, maybe we need to get out of the marriage business.
The State already owns that business. People have long been able to go the courthouse, pay for a license, and have a court deputy perform a brief ceremony, resulting in a legal marriage. It’s quicker, easier, and a lot less expensive than a big, fancy church wedding with a reception.
Maybe it’s time for us to look at what a train wreck marriage has been over the years in this country, and rethink what we do to solemnify and bless this union that we have traditionally referred to as “marriage.” Maybe we need to revisit the concepts of covenant and faithfulness and reframe them under the lordship of Jesus Christ, and let the State do its job of deciding who gets married and who doesn’t.
We can be for or against this Supreme Court decision, but in the end it doesn’t really matter. Religious groups in general and Christians in particular don’t own marriage. That coat has been taken.