After the debate in North Carolina over the ammendment to our state constitution further (redundantly) stating our belief that marriage is between one man and one woman I made a decision I had already wrestled with for some time.
In light of the increasing differences between the secular and the sacramental understandings of marriage and the confusion on both conservative and liberal sides of the debate, I will no longer act as an agent of the state to sign a marriage certificate. Couples who would like the civil benefits of state-recognized marriage are free to have that legal union certified at the courthouse. My part is to join, in the name of God and with the Church, two souls in Holy Matrimony. Give Caesar what belongs to him; I work for God.
Some to whom I have announced my preemptive denunciation of civil marriage see the move as unnecessarily inconvenient should a couple actually want me to marry them. They may be right. For now. This month we saw, though, that the tide of popular opinion in some states has shifted against the historic Christian understanding of marriage. And today I finally read someone else say what I’ve been saying: http://www.gosanangelo.com/news/2012/nov/23/a-proposal-for-churches-to-cut-ties-to-civil/ .
Protestants might have a harder time drawing this line between civil and sacramental marriage. They have a hard time distinguishing the work of Christ through his Church sacramentally. For them Baptism is a personal act and Eucharist a simple act of commemoration. We catholics, though, understand that the sacraments are events in which we the Church are the gloves filled with the Hands of God, Christ and the Spirit.
We priests have so far in this country felt comfortable acting sacramentally to join man and woman as one flesh before God, conferring heavenly grace to the couple, and then signing the state’s form so that their civil blessings may also be applied. The state understanding of marriage seemed close enough to our own that we saw no conflict in acting as agents both of the Church and of the state by these actions. It is becoming clear, though, that this is no longer so comfortable an arrangement. The state has the right – given to it by its citizens – to define marriage as it chooses. The Church has no right – no matter what the Episcopalians say – to bless other than what God has deigned to bless.
Let the judges and some of the Protestants sign the legal documents; let couples write their own vows, recreating and redefining marriage at a whim; let straight people, gay people, multiple partners, people and puppy dogs get married under the law. It is not my concern. I am no judge. I am a priest of the Church. The liturgy within which I join a couple is not of my own composition; it, like me, is a servant of Christ and his Church. It defines the marriage along biblical lines and does not change with polls and ballots.
I would encourage all priests, indeed all Christian ministers whose view of marriage is sacramental, to flee Sodom. We have nothing left to do with civil marriage. Perhaps if we leave the debate to the secularists we can focus with renewed vigor and intensified catechesis on what Holy Matrimony really is.
Arguments against an evil thing are always weaker than the positive statement of the truth.