Marriage: Sacrament and Contract

Discussion in 'Current Events' started by Adam's Apple, Dec 14, 2004.

  1. Adam's Apple
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    Adam's Apple Senior Member

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    Marriage Rites and Wrongs
    By William Raspberry, The Washington Post
    Monday, December 13, 2004

    C.S. Lewis, the British essayist, author and cleric, died 41 years ago, so he wasn't writing about same-sex marriage in America. No, his subject in his book "Mere Christianity" was divorce. Still, his observations may shed some light on our "values" controversy today.

    "I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused," he wrote. "The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question--how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws.

    "A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. . . .

    "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."

    Religious marriage, he was saying, is a sacrament, and the state has no more business involving itself in the rules that govern it than it has in such questions as the efficacy of infant baptism, the validity of kosher certification or the number of virgins a (male) martyr might reasonably anticipate as his reward.

    But marriage isn't only sacrament. It is also the basis on which we decide who may inherit in the absence of a will, who may make life-or-death decisions for loved ones, or who is eligible for the advantages of joint tax returns. And because it has these secular implications, the state has a legitimate role in determining who is married and who isn't.

    The church has no interest in joint filings, and the state no interest in declarations of love or religious affiliation. To the one, marriage is a sacred rite; to the other, it is the sanctioning of a contractual relationship. The church may care whether he is a philanderer or she a gold-digger, or whether there's too great a gap in their ages. The state's interests run to the validity of the contract.

    And what has any of this to do with same-sex marriage? Maybe if we can get past such churchly considerations as God's will as expressed in Leviticus, we can make peace with the bifurcation Lewis urged in his 1952 book: Let the church handle the sacrament, the state the contract.

    If we could get there, we might even calm down long enough to ask ourselves what would really be the risk in same-sex marriages. I mean, if our sexuality is pretty much hard-wired, how likely is it that legitimizing gay or lesbian marriages would tempt straight people into homosexuality? On the other hand, keeping the status quo seems unlikely to turn gays or lesbians into straights. Maybe what we are principally talking about is the effect of marriage on couples who are already involved in sexual relationships. We believe it's a good thing for heterosexual couples to commit to fidelity. Do we think it's a bad thing for homosexual couples to do so?

    Ah, but many of the advocates of gay marriage want more than the sanction of the state. They also want the blessing of their religions. And that makes opponents understandably nervous. The "full faith and credit" clause of the Constitution is generally taken to mean that a marriage held valid by any state is valid in all states. One state, that is, could change everything. You see why some traditionalists wanted a constitutional amendment to keep the old definitions in place.

    I don't know where Lewis might have stood on gay marriage. For all I know, the cleric might have opposed any marriage except between one man and one woman. He might have urged such a view on his church.

    But he wouldn't have urged it on the state. His fear of government intrusion into matters of faith would have kept him from doing so; his proposal for "two distinct kinds of marriage" would have made it unnecessary. In his two-tier scheme, all couples would take the contractual steps necessary for state sanction of their domestic partnership. Those who chose to -- and who could persuade their religious organizations to go along -- could also obtain sacramental sanction of their religious marriages.

    And we all could live happily ever after. Sure.

    willrasp@washpost.com
     
  2. Gem
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    Gem BANNED

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    It is an interesting article, to be sure. It does, however, have one fatal flaw that I find runs throughout most of the "counterargument" points that argue for gay marriage or rather, against those who oppose it.

    It assumes that everyones argument against gay marriage is coming from a religious stance.

    When I first began thinking about this issue, I could see no reason why, just as Lewis implied, state couldn't keep to state, church to church. I saw non-religious marriage as a contract between two people, a legal agreement to bind the assets and lives of two consenting adults, and religious marriage as a sacrement between God and the two people marrying.

    Why then, I reasoned, couldn't the state have its "non-religious" marriage rites, and religions could recognize gay marriage or not as their religious values allowed?

    So, I set out to find NON-religious reasons to support or oppose gay marriage. What I found was that there are more non-religious reasons to oppose gay marriage than religious ones...important questions about how such a decision would affect our nation, questions about how similar decisions might have effected other nations, questions about how rushing into changing something that has been in place for arguably, thousands of years simply because we are afraid to appear "intolerant" might be a critical mistake...etc.

    Where am I now? To be honest, I can argue effectively for both sides of the debate. But what I have found MOST disturbing is NOT the religious people stating that gay marriage is wrong because their religion states it is...these people have a right to say and believe those things and I have no problem with people of faith believing what they want...that is the freedom of the United States...No, what I have found more troubling is that even by questioning why we might want to hesitate before legalizing gay marriage immediately brands you as an "intolerant homophobe," "a bigoted right-winger," "a born-again Christian fanatic." To even hint that you might want to examine all sides of the issue before making such a big change to the way America has operated since its inception is to invite some of the most hostile attacks I have seen on message boards or in conversations in reality...it seems that to many who support gay marriage, considering the benefits to opposing it is tantamount to saying, "I believe all gay people should be placed on an island until they die."

    Important decisions regarding this nation SHOULD require conversation, debate, and an equal accounting of BOTH sides of the spectrum without condemnation, insult, ridicule, scorn...having looked at both sides, I know that both sides have a point that should be heard...

    Lewis was right, one person or group of persons' religion should not be the reason to create or strike down a law. However, would Lewis have objected to all of the NON-RELIGIOUS reasons why divorce is a terrible thing? Would he have considered all of the things we know now about how it effects family, education, health, the poverty level, crime??? Or would he have branded someone intolerant for considering those things?
     
  3. Adam's Apple
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    Adam's Apple Senior Member

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    Very thoughtful comments. I think Raspberry knows that practicing homosexuals are not going away, and being the highly vocal minority that they are, he just wanted to put some thoughts out there to get people thinking about alternative ways to handle it.
     

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