Marriage has been in the news a lot lately. People probably think clergy are all strong defenders of marriage as currently practiced. But some of us have become uncomfortable with our expected role in weddings and registering marriages with the state.
So here is something to think about: Why Churches Should Stop Performing Marriages.
My understanding is that civil marriage in the U.S. goes back to puritan opposition to marriage as a sacrament governed by canon law. This was the practice in the Roman Catholic Church and the Church of England. Puritans wanted marriage to be purely a civil contract. In the early days they discouraged clergy from participating in weddings at all.
But civil marriage today is neither a sacrament nor a contract. (Contracts have penalties for breach of contract, but no fault divorce eliminates this. If you want a contract, you have to get a plenum.) Vows about the permanence and exclusivity of marriage only get enforced in groups that have a separate church law to govern marriage. This is not Protestant churches, where pastors pretty much get to make up their individual rules. We sign the marriage licence, but nobody asks us to sign the divorce papers. Marriage becomes largely a sentimental declaration of intentions.
My wife and I have been caught up in what the book of Ephesians calls the “mystery” of husband and wife for forty-three years. Our marriage is registered in Los Angeles county, but that isn’t what makes us married.