Friday, November 16, 2012

George Weigel: The Church should get out of the civil marriage business

A further threat comes from the gay insurgency, which will press the administration to find some way to federalize the marriage issue and to compel acceptance of the chimera of “gay marriage.” Thus it seems important to accelerate a serious debate within American Catholicism on whether the Church ought not pre-emptively withdraw from the civil marriage business, its clergy declining to act as agents of government in witnessing marriages for purposes of state law.
Read the rest here.

He is partly right though for the wrong reasons. It is the state that should get out of the "marriage" business and instead adopt a uniform code regulating civil unions. Marriage would then be a purely religious institution. This would effectively pull the "fairness" rug out from under the gay mafia and ensure that the state could not meddle in church doctrine.


Phil said...

Could we take this one step further? Seeing as marriage, in the public's eye - and with the government chasing close behind - has devolved to a semi-extended, semi-dedicated relationship of pleasure and convenience - why should the state be even in the civil union business? Let's take this thing to its logical conclusion and say, officially, that we're indifferent to the form of "family" arrangements undertaken by citizens.

I don't see why, in all seriousness, what are (as this has now become plural) now, in essence, fora for sexual pleasure should receive special treatment in the tax code. Let's all pay the same tax rate, as individuals, without regard to whether we're sleeping with one woman, three women, or two men. We may as well treat the person who prefers the NFL differently than the one who files his taxes and checks "ice hockey." The idea that today's version of marriage should impact on public policy is fast approaching lunacy.

Anonymous said...

Inheritance is the basis for marriage laws. Heirs have to be "legitimate". This thinking goes back to Rome and beyond.

Anonymous said...

But there is also the question of receiving social security benefits. I've never worked outside the home long enough to earn any of my own. I will receive my husband's benefits if he dies before me.
Of course the solution to that problem is to get the government out of the pension business ,too!

Chris Jones said...

At first glance, this seems like an elegant solution for conservatives who are traditional in religion (Catholics, Orthodox, etc.) but have a libertarian streak in their politics (among whom I certainly count myself). But it doesn't bear scrutiny.

The problem is in trying to re-define marriage as "a purely religious institution." That is not really any better than trying to re-define marriage as being between a man and a man or a woman and a woman, in addition to being between a man and a woman. Either way we are taking it upon ourselves to define what "marriage" is.

But marriage is what it is, not what we should like it to be. It is not the creation of the state or of any human culture; it is a fundamental aspect of human nature. Neither civil nor religious laws and practices are constitutive of marriage; they merely regulate and protect a reality which already exists, and has already long since existed, quite apart from the state or the Church. It is, as Pope Leo XIII said, "anterior and superior to all positive law."

The central problem with gay marriage is that it does not recognize the given-ness of marriage and its ontological status, independent of our institutions or our preferences. If in the name of saving marriage or of protecting the liberty of the Church, we decide that we can re-define marriage as a purely religious institution, then we are no better than the progressives who want to re-define marriage in order to coerce society at large to endorse and approve of homosexuality.

Marriage is not a purely religious institution, and it does not become such just because we say so.

Anaxagoras said...

"But marriage is what it is, not what we should like it to be. It is not the creation of the state or of any human culture; it is a fundamental aspect of human nature."

Does marriage, by its mysterious nature (which you say is a fundamental aspect of human nature) include polygamy? If not, why was that a nearly universal practice in the ancient near east where society began? It is an honest question.

Anonymous said...

Phil that's an excellent point. I've seriously never thought of it that way. I've always taken the same position as John on this issue. But yeah, what rational reason would the government have for offering special privileges to these semi-committed sexual relationships? Obviously there should be tax breaks for parents as parents, according to the number of their children, but not for civil union partners as civil union partners. What stake does the government have in promoting these relationships? How do they benefit society at large? Traditional marriage on the other hand (as opposed to civil union), does benefit society at large because it produces and raises up children.

I'll have to give this issue more thought. Maybe Phil is right. Or maybe we shouldn't back down on defending marriage as a civil institution after all.

Phil said...


Sometimes it's easy to get frustrated at the course of events, but, personally, I prefer your view of the matter. The State has an interest in promoting and protecting mother-father families, for the sake of children. But we're fast getting to the point where that the State no longer knows it.

Stephen said...

And there used to be a time when most Christians were happy entrusting to the State the right to take the life of a convicted murderer. I wouldn't want to give the State that power anymore.

Anonymous said...


Those who want to get married in the church would still have to get a civil marriage.

They just would not get it 2 in 1 like they do now.

This would send out a message to those who are not serious about marriage, but still want it for the public wedding show.

But, I agree that John's advice is better.


The Anti-Gnostic said...

Marriage would then be a purely religious institution.

No it wouldn't, so long as it is the State which ultimately enforces the marriage covenant. If you want to grant this power to the Church, the Hebrew township, the Amish settlement, the Muslim caliphate, whatever, then homosexuals at least somewhere are going to be outside the pale, not to mention that the State has conceded yet another argument for its non-existence. The State will never do this, and so long as the nuclear-armed, democratic State exists as an avenue to redress this grievance, it will be pursued. The State will not implement policies that undermine its own raison d'etre and will always stand ready to enforce the purported rights of a deviant minority as a means to enlarge its sphere of influence.

This post strikes me as very "catholic" thinking: if sexual deviants are outside the bounds of what the State previously recognized as normative behavior, we'll just move the tent pegs out so everybody is in the warm, fuzzy embrace of the secular State. Then we'll breathe a sigh of relief and declare that we can all get along. Muslims, Orthodox Hebrews and the Church, eff you.

Understand that I am very sympathetic to policies which diminish the role of the State, but the State redefining the pre-State institution of marriage to include homosexual unions does the exact opposite.

The Anti-Gnostic said...

Does marriage, by its mysterious nature (which you say is a fundamental aspect of human nature) include polygamy?

The question for an Orthodox is how does the Church define marriage. And if the State defines it any other way, then the State is wrong.

Anonymous said...


If the state regulated all civil unions. How would this affect homosexuals that want to adopt?


John (Ad Orientem) said...

The short answer is that I'm not sure. Most likely your mileage will vary from state to state as it does now. But that is an interesting question and one that warrants a serious discussion. Some states explicitly permit it and others directly or by default prohibit it.

Anonymous said...


France and New Zealand, have gay civil unions without adoptions. Only married couples can adopt.

Some aruge that there will still be opposition to civil unions from the church and conservatives.

Visibilium said...

In non-religious context, the marriage covenant is a contractual matter. Same with adoption, homosexual or otherwise, except that the State, where it exists, would have a public-policy interest in protecting minors and other incompetents.