Interesting proposal on Marriage in America

I would like to know what my readers (such that there are) think about this article which suggests a way out of the current debate over 'gay marriage' in the United States.

Basically, he says that the government should not issue marriages to anyone. Only religious communities such as churches or synagogues should do so. The government should simply have a civil contract that it issues to anyone who wants it: gay or straight or whatever, which will involve certain shared rights, priviledges, ownership, tax status, etc., but which will not be a "marriage." Marriage will become an exclusively religious institution. The government, likewise, would no longer be involved in divorces at all, but would simply disolved a civil contract. Whether someone was "divorced" or could remarry would become a question for religious officials.

Marriage has been a public institution with legal standing throughout Western History, and such a change would represent a fundamental shift in our civilization. It might be short-sighted to make such a shift to deal with the controversy of the moment, a shift that could have unforseen consequences. On the other hand, given the proliferation of worldviews among individuals or sub-cultural social groups in our society, each worldview with its own values and convictions, it may be that the shift has already happened. The gay marriage issue will not go away, and this might simply be an example of the law keeping pace with the people.

Another consideration is whether those invovled in the debate will really be happy with this compromise. The very idea of compromise as a political virtue has fallen on hard times - if not altogether died - in American political discourse, and I wonder if many will not be able to accept this one? Those on the left - many of whom are parts of religious communities and want the law to change precisely in order to also influence the position of their churches - may not be happy with this change. On the other side, in an effort to fight divorce many traditionalists have backed laws that actually deepen the connection between state and marriage and church - such as "covenant marriages" in my own state, which are harded to get into and more difficult to get out of (both require extensive counselling) than traditional marriages. The assumption is of course that, as marriage is good for society (numerous studies on various facets of social existence can substantiate this, if we can agree that the word "good" has a definable application here), the state has an interest in promoting more stable marriages.

The place of marriage in our common social life may increasingly come under scrutiny since, because of the already-mentioned increasing divergence ('diversity' or 'disagreement') of philosophies, I strongly suspect our legal system will become more and more reductionist over time - speaking firmly on fewer and fewer issues as more and more become debated. I firmly believe that laws against polygamy, incest, and even prostitution will be increasingly difficult to defend if our society chooses a libertinism course on homosexual marriage (if consenting adults want it, we should allow it since - supposedly - that is what freedom means). I believe that our society probably will eventually choosen a libertine course over a 'natural law' or 'common good' approach, since we have already done so on other issues (such as pornography). So I find this proposal to 'abandon the marriage question' very interesting...

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Blogger MWC said...

Didn't C.S. Lewis already propose this 50+ years ago?

12:46 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

wow, I really have no idea? Please tell me more...

I would be all the more interested to learn more since C.S. Lewis' situation was a little bit different from ours in that he lived in an "officially" Christian nation - the Church of England being the state religion and all, so one would assume that - in theory at least - the definition of marriage that prevailed in law and that of the CofE were the same, or at least connected...

9:16 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger MWC said...

Your original post simply reminded me of the passage in Mere Christianity when Lewis calls for two forms of marriage:

"My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not."

I understand that Lewis was dealing with a different arrangement of church and state and that he wasn't specifically talking about gay marriage...I merely found his solution to the culture's abuse of Christian marriage to be strikingly similar to the fix offered by Mr. Thomas. That's all.

10:56 PM, September 19, 2008  
Blogger Michael said...

In my humble opinion, that is pretty much how it is now. Just because someone gets a marriage license from the state does not necessarily require the Church to do the wedding, especially if there are certain objections such as homosexuality or divorced persons. These persons can still go to a JP to be married, but such a marriage is not necessarily valid in the eyes of the Church for lack of a "holy union" but is still, nevertheless, perfectly legal.

If there ever comes a day when the government can compel a church to perform a wedding, then we will have serious problems.

9:49 AM, September 22, 2008  
Blogger Stephen said...

I would LOVE for this to be the case. I remind the people that I am marrying: We are doing a Service of Christian Marriage not a wedding.

I have long believed that the state should regulate civil unions and such as it pertains to name changes, benefits, etc...

I believe that they do have something similar to this in Great Britain. If I remember correctly the Prince of Wales and his new wife had a "civil union" with the government official prior to the Christian Marriage.

This would be acceptable to me, I don't know if it would be acceptable to those who are in that firm one man, one woman camp.

10:42 AM, September 22, 2008  
Blogger Daniel McLain Hixon said...

hey, you guys are leaving some interesting comments, keep it up! and mwc, thanks for getting back on that Lewis quote. I love how he gets to the very practical bottom line "most Englishmen aren't Christians anyways, so..."
I was still thinking in terms of political philosophy "the governing philosophical assumptions about human nature that undergird the legislation in this country..."

2:17 PM, September 24, 2008  
Blogger John T. Meche III said...

This was my first reaction to the marriage debate -to give marriage exclusively to the church and let the secular government define civil unions however it wants.

The only kink I see in the chain is that the hardcore religious republican types who believe that "this is God's country" will never go for it. Obviously I'm not a magisterial reformer.

PS I'm in a covenant marriage.

3:08 PM, October 01, 2008  

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