Should we simply return marriage to the church?
Prior to 1753, marriage was exclusively the domain of the church, and governed by cannon law. Passage of the Marriage Act made marriage a civil matter that, although preformed in the church, needed to be recognized by the state. The United States continued the tradition of civil or secular marriages preformed by state authorities as opposed to the church.
Although there are repeated calls to a state of traditional, millennia-old holy matrimony, the actual history of marriage is muddled, varied, and often not romantic or holy at all.
If traditional and religious people are so concerned about maintaining the sanctity of marriage, is the best option for the state to simply give it back to them? Should the state eliminate the relationship of a “secular” or “civil” marriage, and instead just transfer all of the rights currently associated with marriage to a “civil partnership”? Such a relationship would not depend on any sexual relationship, not be concerned with kinship ties, and need not be limited to a specific number of people – but instead would be an agreement between parties above the age of consent and intending to reside in a single household or, barring the possibility of that, to combine their assets and liabilities, in order to provide more stable support to each other and form a cohesive family unit. All state marriages would be re-titled as civil partnerships under the law, and anyone seeking a marriage would have to consult their religious authorities…but receiving a marriage would not entitle you to legal rights unless you registered as civil partners.
Further, divorce would only have effect on civil partnerships, and religious institutions would not be required to dissolve marriages upon the termination of the civil partnership, and married individuals would have to apply to the religious authorities separately, and no religious divorce would indicate that there was a termination of the civil partnership unless a separate application was made to the state.
What are the problems, if any, with such a scenario? If we take the sex and religion and separate them from the legal rights, haven’t we done the best possible thing to “defend marriage”?