Promoted from the Ricochet Member Feed by Editors Created with Sketch. Should Clergy Continue to Register Marriages for the State?

 

shutterstock_262863614As you may know, nearly all clergy act as marriage agents for their local or state governments. In Connecticut, for example, ordained or licensed clergy may perform marriages as long as they continue in the work of the ministry. The marriage license must be completed by the minister and returned to the city or town clerk. Right next door, Massachusetts clergy themselves must obtain a license to marry before they can fill out valid licenses.

With Obergefell, I know of confessional pastors who are looking hard at whether they should continue this practice. Fr. Jonathan Morris — best known for his appearances on Fox News Channel — had two tweets that sum up the case for this approach.

First, formally splitting their roles in civil and sacred marriage is a witness to the traditional definition of marriage:

Second, it’s a move that removes an excuse for the State to demand that clergy perform non-traditional marriages:

Any intel on what your clergy are thinking and doing?

 

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  1. Arahant Member

    My denomination sees things a bit differently, and we don’t care if gays marry. Our minister will continue performing weddings.

    • #1
    • July 1, 2015, at 2:12 PM PDT
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  2. TG Thatcher

    No intel, but ceasing to act as a government marriage agent seems like the prudent move.

    • #2
    • July 1, 2015, at 2:18 PM PDT
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  3. Fricosis Guy Listener
    Fricosis Guy

    Arahant:My denomination sees things a bit differently, and we don’t care if gays marry. Our minister will continue performing weddings.

    Quick question: does your denomination perform gay weddings? If so, then Obergefell ruling doesn’t matter.

    If not, then reason #2 comes into play: your clergy will be forced to care.

    • #3
    • July 1, 2015, at 2:27 PM PDT
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  4. Arahant Member

    Fricosis Guy:

    Arahant:My denomination sees things a bit differently, and we don’t care if gays marry. Our minister will continue performing weddings.

    Quick question: does your denomination perform gay weddings? If so, then Obergefell ruling doesn’t matter.

    If not, then reason #2 comes into play: your clergy will be forced to care.

    It has not been legal in Michigan. Knowing it was coming up, my minister polled the board to make sure. Nobody had a problem with it. So, if gays come to our church asking, our minister will perform the ceremony. As for ministers in my denomination in other areas where gay marriage was already legal, I suspect they have been happily doing it. A fair number, I don’t know the percentage, of our ministers are gay. Part of that is that we are more accepting of gays than many Christian churches/denominations/etc.

    • #4
    • July 1, 2015, at 2:33 PM PDT
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  5. Aaron Miller Member
    Aaron MillerJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    Catholic priests probably won’t decide what to do individually. It’s doubtful that the Vatican will make that choice either, despite the same problem arising throughout the West.

    More likely, the decision will be left to each bishop to decide for his own diocese. Father Morris is a Legionary (Legion of Christ). The religious orders answer to bishops as well.

    I’m sure US bishops will be discussing among themselves to recommend a standard for all. Most would probably prefer to maintain the status quo as long as possible.

    • #5
    • July 1, 2015, at 3:06 PM PDT
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  6. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    No word from Evangelical sources yet (not that I’ve looked), but I’m sure the question is being considered. I personally think we will enter a two step marriage process for the religious. They will be married according to their faith traditions then will go to the state (or not) to register their unions with the government authorities, repeating the ceremonial aspects as necessary/required by the state.

    • #6
    • July 1, 2015, at 3:27 PM PDT
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  7. PHCheese Member

    The first amendment trumps this ruling in my opinion. It needs to be fought for.

    • #7
    • July 1, 2015, at 3:44 PM PDT
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  8. No Caesar Thatcher
    No CaesarJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    PHCheese:The first amendment trumps this ruling in my opinion. It needs to be fought for.

    I agree, but their angle of attack will be churches’ tax-exempt status. That is how they will get around the first amendment. There is Freedom of Religion, but no Freedom from Taxation. Conservatives need to be very clear, if the Left pushes to over-rule religious conscience and remove tax-exempt status from churches who do not comply, then we will blow up the Not-For-Profit World in toto by pushing for total removal of all tax-exempt status. Since most secular non-profits are Left of Left-Leaning, that will get their attention. I mean, gosh we have this big deficit, think of all the tax revenue if the IRS got their claws into Harvard’s endowment and the Clinton Global Initiative, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace…

    • #8
    • July 1, 2015, at 3:59 PM PDT
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  9. PHCheese Member

    Caesar, that is what I am talking about.

    • #9
    • July 1, 2015, at 4:11 PM PDT
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  10. Profile Photo Member

    No Caesar:

    PHCheese:The first amendment trumps this ruling in my opinion. It needs to be fought for.

    I agree, but their angle of attack will be churches’ tax-exempt status. That is how they will get around the first amendment. There is Freedom of Religion, but no Freedom from Taxation. Conservatives need to be very clear, if the Left pushes to over-rule religious conscience and remove tax-exempt status from churches who do not comply, then we will blow up the Not-For-Profit World in toto by pushing for total removal of all tax-exempt status. Since most secular non-profits are Left of Left-Leaning, that will get their attention. I mean, gosh we have this big deficit, think of all the tax revenue if the IRS got their claws into Harvard’s endowment and the Clinton Global Initiative, the Sierra Club, Greenpeace…

    This is to me an interesting twist : http://www.syracuse.com/us-news/index.ssf/2015/06/supreme_court_gay_marriage_ministers_civil_disobedience.html ” Black pastors urge civi disobedience over Supreme Court gay marriage ruling.” Will Democrats go after tax exempt status for churches if it would mean going after Black churches? The SJW crowd may be ok with that, but will more mainstream Dems go along? More civil war on the left- popcorn time!

    • #10
    • July 1, 2015, at 4:15 PM PDT
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  11. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    No Caesar: There is Freedom of Religion, but no Freedom from Taxation.

    But how can religion be truly free if it is subject to the same whims as tobacco and alcohol? If government can tax it, it can be taxed out of existence.

    I’m waiting for Scalia to actually write in an opinion, “What part of ‘Congress shall make no law…’ is so hard for Congress to understand?”

    • #11
    • July 1, 2015, at 6:04 PM PDT
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  12. Fjordhopper Inactive

    Fricosis Guy:

    Quick question: does your denomination perform gay weddings? If so, then Obergefell ruling doesn’t matter.

    If not, then reason #2 comes into play: your clergy will be forced to care.

    It’s not quite that clear. In my church body, the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, the official position regarding SSM and non-celibate homosexual clergy is “we are not of one mind.” All congregations and pastors are allowed to not perform SSM, all are allowed to perform SSM Some congregations and pastors will choose to do so, others will not, and in still others the congregation and pastor will disagree. The bishops seem to think this will not be a problem moving forward. I am not convinced.

    Per the matter of registering marriages… I just had this discussion this afternoon with two colleagues. One has already decided that he will not register/conduct marriages on behalf of the state. He will perform the religious ceremony either before or after the couple goes to the courthouse to be registered in the eyes of the state.

    This is not a foreign concept to Lutherans (outside America). In Germany state and religious ceremonies are separate. The marriage officially occurs under the auspices of the state, then is blessed by the Church. Classically Lutherans have seen marriage as a matter of the Kingdom of the Left (government), and not a matter of the Kingdom of the Right (the Church) because marriage exists within Creation, both outside and inside the Church.

    • #12
    • July 1, 2015, at 8:42 PM PDT
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  13. Fjordhopper Inactive

    As I said above, my one colleague has decided to get out of the business of being an agent of the state. Our other colleague and I are seriously considering that possibility.

    • #13
    • July 1, 2015, at 8:43 PM PDT
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  14. Randal H Member

    Fjordhopper: This is not a foreign concept to Lutherans (outside America). In Germany state and religious ceremonies are separate. The marriage officially occurs under the auspices of the state, then is blessed by the Church.

    Yep, my wife is German and we were married by the mayor of the little rural town she grew up in. He was a farmer as well as being mayor, and I remember he had a little dirt under his fingernails when conducting the process. The church wedding that followed was purely ceremonial, as the clergy don’t have the authority to perform legal marriages.

    Churches here would be wise to consider the same approach. Let the state have its legal contract on file. Marriage is really a vow of commitment between two people, and in my opinion, requires only the expression of that commitment before witnesses. I fail to see how the state could apply coercion in a ceremony conducted that way with no representative of the state present.

    • #14
    • July 1, 2015, at 9:46 PM PDT
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  15. The (apathetic) King Prawn Inactive

    Randal H: Churches here would be wise to consider the same approach. Let the state have its legal contract on file. Marriage is really a vow of commitment between two people, and in my opinion, requires only the expression of that commitment before witnesses. I fail to see how the state could apply coercion in a ceremony conducted that way with no representative of the state present.

    How well does this fit with American traditions? And do we really want to become more European? I thought we crossed an ocean, tamed a wilderness, and kicked a king’s arse so we didn’t have to put up with that [expletive].

    • #15
    • July 2, 2015, at 12:12 AM PDT
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  16. Tom Meyer, Common Citizen Contributor

    I think this is a regrettable, but likely smart, move.

    • #16
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:03 AM PDT
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  17. Son of Spengler Contributor

    It’s understandable, and from the standpoint of Jewish law and custom it’s not a problem. In fact, I know of specific cases already where a couple got a (paper) civil marriage in advance of their (real) Jewish marriage. They continued to live as unmarried until the religious ceremony but it made sense to advance the civil timing for various reasons (e.g., qualifying for married student housing).

    Also, I went to a wedding last week and it was incongruous to hear the rabbi pronounce that the couple was married not only “according to the law of Moses and the People of Israel” but also the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    Still, it seems as if something is lost when believers are pushed to the fringe, and no longer acceptable as representatives of society. The Founders saw a tight connection between morality and self-government. The state can’t transform one without transforming the other.

    • #17
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:17 AM PDT
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  18. GrannyDude Member

    Fjordhopper:As I said above, my one colleague has decided to get out of the business of being an agent of the state. Our other colleague and I are seriously considering that possibility.

    I’m considering this—-not because my denomination won’t perform SSMs (we have been doing so extralegally for decades) but because I am concerned for the separation of church and state, and the protection of other clergy (e.g. Fjordhopper) who are called to act in accordance with their conscience.

    Up until now, the relationship I have had with the state that “vests” the power to marry people has been relatively informal, and, as I’ve said elsewhere, I have felt perfectly free to refuse to marry anyone I thought ought not to be married.

    Naturally, my freedom to follow my conscience on this subject was limited— state law did not permit me to legally marry gays and lesbians prior to SSM being approved by the voters in 2012—-but never mind, I know that all of you were just as outraged by that government interference in my religious life as you presently are about the potential plight of Catholics and Southern Baptists. (Did I remember to thank you for all those supportive cards and e-mails?)

    Anyway a lot of silly people are going to be doing a lot of silly things (e.g. the polygamist popping up to demand the right to marry a second wife…why do I suspect a political stunt here?) and claiming religious reasons for it, and SCOTUS has gotten itself and the rest of us into a needless muddle that could, at least in theory, require the state to start forcing clergy to act as “wedding providers” rather than ministers…

    So the short answer is that at least one Unitarian Universalist minister is seriously considering getting out of the state part of the business, too .

    • #18
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:22 AM PDT
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  19. GrannyDude Member

    Son of Spengler:It’s understandable, and from the standpoint of Jewish law and custom it’s not a problem. In fact, I know of specific cases already where a couple got a (paper) civil marriage in advance of their (real) Jewish marriage. They continued to live as unmarried until the religious ceremony but it made sense to advance the civil timing for various reasons (e.g., qualifying for married student housing).

    Also, I went to a wedding last week and it was incongruous to hear the rabbi pronounce that the couple was married not only “according to the law of Moses and the People of Israel” but also the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts.

    Still, it seems as if something is lost when believers are pushed to the fringe, and no longer acceptable as representatives of society. The Founders saw a tight connection between morality and self-government. The state can’t transform one without transforming the other.

    Agree.

    • #19
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:25 AM PDT
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  20. Liz Member

    Randal H:

    Fjordhopper: This is not a foreign concept to Lutherans (outside America). In Germany state and religious ceremonies are separate. The marriage officially occurs under the auspices of the state, then is blessed by the Church.

    Yep, my wife is German and we were married by the mayor of the little rural town she grew up in. He was a farmer as well as being mayor, and I remember he had a little dirt under his fingernails when conducting the process. The church wedding that followed was purely ceremonial, as the clergy don’t have the authority to perform legal marriages.

    Churches here would be wise to consider the same approach. Let the state have its legal contract on file. Marriage is really a vow of commitment between two people, and in my opinion, requires only the expression of that commitment before witnesses. I fail to see how the state could apply coercion in a ceremony conducted that way with no representative of the state present.

    This is also the way it is done here in Italy. Because of the obstructionist nature of Italian civil law and bureaucracy, I think a lot of people consider it a hassle. I have heard of couples (particular older, widowed people who are marrying again) forgoing civil marriage altogether.

    • #20
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:44 AM PDT
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  21. Pony Convertible Member

    I think the Churches should stick to religious weddings, and quit dealing with state weddings. They are two different things, and not everyone wants both.

    I know several older couples who have been married in the church, but did not get a “State” marriage. It keeps it cleaner as far as passing on their estates to their children. Additionally, I don’t think most gays want to be married in the church, they just want the benefits of a state wedding.

    Separating them removes most, if not all, of the conflict, and seems to be a way for us all to get along.

    • #21
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:47 AM PDT
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  22. GrannyDude Member

    Pony Convertible:I think the Churches should stick to religious weddings, and quit dealing with state weddings. They are two different things, and not everyone wants both.

    I know several older couples who have been married in the church, but did not get a “State” marriage. It keeps it cleaner as far as passing on their estates to their children. Additionally, I don’t think most gays want to be married in the church, they just want the benefits of a state wedding.

    Separating them removes most, if not all, of the conflict, and seems to be a way for us all to get along.

    Agree, although my church performed commitment ceremonies for quite a few gay and lesbian couples before it could be made legal—-I would assume they won’t want to be married in churches that don’t want to marry them, though human nature being what it is, who knows?

    • #22
    • July 2, 2015, at 7:52 AM PDT
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  23. The Reticulator Member

    No Caesar: then we will blow up the Not-For-Profit World in toto by pushing for total removal of all tax-exempt status.

    This is a good idea, one that I have advocated for decades. In fact, I think we should blow up the non-profit concept completely. If you know of conservative places where this is being actively discussed in detail, please share.

    • #23
    • July 2, 2015, at 8:00 AM PDT
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  24. Marythefifth Member
    MarythefifthJoined in the first year of Ricochet Ricochet Charter Member

    My brother suggested our church can go a step further and generate our own civil contracts to replace that of the state that may place higher expectations on the couple. ‘Til death do us part means just that, for instance.

    • #24
    • July 2, 2015, at 9:42 AM PDT
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  25. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    Pony Convertible:I think the Churches should stick to religious weddings, and quit dealing with state weddings. They are two different things, and not everyone wants both.

    I know several older couples who have been married in the church, but did not get a “State” marriage. It keeps it cleaner as far as passing on their estates to their children. Additionally, I don’t think most gays want to be married in the church, they just want the benefits of a state wedding.

    Separating them removes most, if not all, of the conflict, and seems to be a way for us all to get along.

    I think this is a serious misunderstanding of what a marriage is, at least as serious as the SSM idea. A marriage involves among other things the union of all of a couple’s worldly goods. If our pastors were to “get out of the marriage business” then I would hope that they would only marry religiously people who were also marrying in the secular system. I don’t see how half a marriage can ever work.

    • #25
    • July 2, 2015, at 9:43 AM PDT
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  26. Lucy Pevensie Inactive

    I am slightly less opposed to this Alabama bill that would have ended the issuing of marriage licenses at all in the state of Alabama. I hate to think what the effect would have been on marriages in general, but I think it’s a more effective act of protest.

    • #26
    • July 2, 2015, at 9:47 AM PDT
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  27. Nick Stuart Inactive

    At my church the pastor and board are doing their best to not think about this and hoping the alligator eats someone else first.

    • #27
    • July 2, 2015, at 10:04 AM PDT
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  28. Arahant Member

    Nick Stuart:At my church the pastor and board are doing their best to not think about this and hoping the alligator eats someone else first.

    Good luck with that. It’s better to be proactive.

    • #28
    • July 2, 2015, at 10:22 AM PDT
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  29. Man With the Axe Member

    What’s best for our society, it seems to me, is for churches to do whatever they think is right; for homosexuals to find someone to perform their marriage that wants to do so voluntarily; for the government to allow this without punishing the churches with an unconstitutional tax penalty; and for all to live and let live.

    Is that really so hard?

    • #29
    • July 2, 2015, at 10:27 AM PDT
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  30. Arahant Member

    Man With the Axe: Is that really so hard?

    For the human race? Probably.

    • #30
    • July 2, 2015, at 10:30 AM PDT
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