General Question

deepseas72's avatar

How can the arguement be made that marriage is a religious ceremony if it can be achieved in a courthouse, performed by a judge, with no mention of god?

Asked by deepseas72 (1076points) January 30th, 2008

Many people argue that the government should not legalize same sex marriage because marriage is a religious ceremony, yet one can marry without any mention of religion at a courthouse.

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14 Answers

Mangus's avatar

This is an interesting point. You certainly don’t hear noise about abolishing civil ceremonies performed by judges at city hall. This is a good way of highlighting the real issues with same-sex marriage. Opponents aren’t consistent enough with their positions for me to believe that the objection is purely religious, based on a reading/understanding of religious texts. Rather, the objection is based on fear, and the perceived threat to the current hierarchy (heterosexist and patriarchal). The religious objection is just a proxy.

omfgTALIjustIMDu's avatar

If that is the argument (one I haven’t heard before), then by the same reasoning and logic, the government should not be able to ban same sex marriage because marriage is a religious ceremony, and the government cannot infringe on peoples’ religious freedoms unless they are harmful to others (i.e. their religion involves killing people, etc.). And on this same basis, polygamy should also be allowed.

bluemukaki's avatar

I think that the use of “Marriage” should refer to the religious union, and that a separate, legal, term should be used aswell to refer to the actual union that takes place under the law. Christian practice and law are too closely tied on the subject of marriage. I think same-sex couples should be able to ‘marry’ under a non-religious legal term that is completely separate from religion, one that everyone should have to carry out as well as the religious ceremony…

phoenyx's avatar

bluemakiki: you totally beat me to it.

The problem is that there are really two different entities who both call it “marriage”, even though they are different things. To a religion, a marriage may be a sacred union with a certain religious status, a specific covenant, etc. that are all important in that religion. To a government, a marriage is a legal union, with certain legal privileges and a certain legal status.

A religious marriage shouldn’t give you the legal rights and a legal marriage shouldn’t have religious implications.

Maverick's avatar

Marriage predates organized religion by many thousands of years, at least. The concept of marriage is found worldwide in all types of different cultures, regardless of religion. So, there is nothing inherently religious about marriage or family, despite what the fanatical Christian right might say.

Likewise, same-sex marriage has nothing to do with religion either. Even if same-sex marriage is made law, it would be a civil law, there is nothing about that which would force churches to allow same-sex marriages. Religion is free to continue to be as homophobic, closed, and bigoted as it always has been. I honestly can’t understand why there is any discussion at all about whether or not we should prevent two people that are in love from being together. There’s enough hate in the world already. If they really want to be together and they are in love then nobody should have a right to deny that, in my opinion.

syz's avatar

I wish more people had the reasonable attitudes expressed here…..

cwilbur's avatar

There are two aspects of marriage: there’s religious marriage, and civil marriage.

Each religion should be free to determine what they consider marriage; it does not bother me in the slightest if conservative Christian churches decide that they will not recognize the marriages of two men or two women.

The state should be required to recognize as civilly married any two adults who aren’t already married to other people. I have a problem with the state calling the union of a man and a woman a “marriage” and the union of a man and a man or a woman and a woman a “civil union” because almost six decades of civil rights laws in this country have been based on the premise that separate but equal is inherently unequal—and “civil union” versus “marriage” is a clear example of “separate but equal.”

hossman's avatar

At least in Illinois, the legal status of marriage can only be given by the government upon issuance of a license by the County Clerk. A number of licensed occupations can PERFORM a marriage CEREMONY, including judges, ministers, etc., but that is purely ceremonial, and cannot be performed until the license has been granted. The role of a minister and religion is purely ceremonial and does not confer any legal rights whatsoever.

A ceremony is required, once the license has been issued, but that can be done by a judge without any involvement of religion at all. In fact, I’ve often wondered why they bother requiring a ceremony at all, they should just issue the license, and if someone wants a ceremony, that would be purely optional.

In a legal sense, once you discard the “tradition” (not the same as “religion”) argument to only issue marriage licenses to a man and a woman, then there really is no legal bar to restricting a marriage license to only two people. I see no legal recourse, other than traditional precedent, to bar polygamous marriage licenses from being issued.

The slippery slope arguments would then suggest marriage licenses should be issued to minors, someone wishing to marry their prized Labrador or their Corvette, but there are other arguments regarding the legal capacity to consent that would permit the slippery slope from sliding too far. Although I suppose the legislature could lift those as well.

finkelitis's avatar

@hossman—interestingly, the tradition argument doesn’t really prevent any of the things you mentioned in any fundamental way. In different states and times in this country it has been legal to have polygamous marriages, to marry dead people (though I think that was more symbolic), and to marry minors. In fact, it’s still legal to marry minors in many states. I forget which state just raised it’s legal minimum age for marriage from 12 to 14 (for girls, I think).

I think there’s no chance of marriage ever occurring between people and their pets or cars, though, since animals and cars don’t have the ability to enter any kind of contract. Legally, it’s a red herring. It’s also highly unlikely from a legal perspective that we’ll have polygamous marriage licenses, because of the legal, contractual implications. It’s more likely that polygamy will eventually be sanctioned by at least some religions and cultures (and of course, it is even encouraged by some, though they are not well represented in the US).

To everyone—really interesting discussion. I think there is a fundamental tension around this topic, since, as maverick mentioned, marriage came first, and then religion and the law have tried to draw their own lines around it. Because these different frameworks and viewpoints have different emphases and interests, there is a necessary ambiguity around the topic. I tend to side with cwilbur on the topic of what should be done about it.

finkelitis's avatar

A few amusing takes on the tradition issue are here
and here

Upward's avatar

It all seems like a wording problem…
Why not drop Marriage from all government certificates and just call them all “Civil Unions”. Then let each religion call there ceremonies as they wish… Marriage… Unions… Ball and Chain…

Zuma's avatar

I think we need to distinguish between the civil contract of Marriage and the religious sacrament of Matrimony.

Marriage was—and is—always all about property rights. Up until about one hundred years ago, it had to do with a man purchasing a woman from her father. In ancient times, the marriage contract would specify the bride price; or, if the woman came from a family of means, a dowry, which represented an amount the woman would inherit from her family. Since women were property, they couldn’t own property, so this amount was settled on the husband.

There were all sorts of provisions about the return of the dowry if the husband divorced her, if she proved not to be a virgin, or if she was barren. It also specified who the woman would become the property of if she survived her husband. The contract might also enumerate such details as how many other wives the man might have, her status and level of support should he take a second or third wife, and how concubines or slaves kept for sexual purposes (male and female) that the husband might own. The marriage contract also specified inheritance rights, so that a child born of a wife took precedence over the offspring of a concubine or a slave.

Today all that remains of this body of property law are the partnership aspects. Married people are considered one person under the law, each being jointly and severally liable for the debts of the other, and mutually obligated for the maintenance and upkeep of the other. There is also the distribution of property upon dissolution of the partnership, which includes inheritance.

The sacrament of matrimony, on the other hand, is administered after the signing of the marriage contract. And it is administered by the couple to each other. The priest is simply the chief witness. According to the Catholic Church, the union of man and woman was elevated to a sacrament by Jesus Christ, but this is a bit of revisionist history. The actual codification of the sacraments didn’t occur until 1563. Before then, couples could declare themselves married and live as husband and wife with or without ceremony. In the matrimonial vows, each partner declares that they are free to marry, they give themselves to one another and pledge lifelong fidelity.

Whether matrimony is between one man and one woman, or between members of the same sex, is a matter for the religion to decide, not the voters speaking through the state. In this respect, passing a law to ban same-sex marriages constitutes a denial of a religious sacrament. In other words, this is not only a denial of equal rights, this is people of one religious persuasion using the state to impose their beliefs on people of another religion. Apart from being flagrantly unAmerican by violating our constitutionally protected freedom of religion, it is also unChristian for one group of Christians to deny sacraments to another.

martinf's avatar

I agree – religion and the law should be separate at all times, and if they were then this would not need to be discussed; there would be recognition of same sex relationships to the same level. I just don’t think it would work having gay marriage.
I don’t think society will ever take to the removal of the gender specifc qualities of marriage whether religion is used or not. The lifestyles of same sex couples and heterosexual couples can be so many magnitudes of different that I just don’t think it would work as same sex ‘marriage’. Equality is not inherent, but a changing society should be able to create new laws to match, without destroying pre-existing rituals of as much importance as marriage.
Besides – I’ve only got one other gay friend that has faith and i’m sure he’d agree there are far worse things wrong with the way we are treated than in the eyes of the law.

SmartAZ's avatar

Marriage is not religious, it is civil. Everybody in this country goes through public school and they don’t know what they are saying most of the time because they have no idea what the words mean.

The only reason marriage has any legal angle is because after the civil war people wanted to abolish the negroes as much as possible so they invented a wedding license specifically so they could refuse it to mixed couples. That meant mixed black and white, since nobody cared about any other combination. Everybody totally forgot that the marriage had nothing to do with the legislature. The state of Illinois publishes a pamphlet explaining that a marriage license establishes a three way corporation between a man, a woman, and the state for the purpose of making babies. That is how the state claims jurisdiction over the children, since the state is one third owner of the corporation that produced them.

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