Marriage and Law – I’m Surrounded By Jerks.

burnsAs a Christian, I get irked by a lot of comments from atheist friends where the word “religious” becomes a pejorative term.  To many folks, the mere presence of faith or spirituality marks me as a fool or a willing dupe. To be called a Christian is to be labeled by default as intolerant and misinformed. The majority of the time, when I see the word atheist, I read “asshat.”

Unfortunately, as someone willing to struggle with my own faith and ask tough questions about what it means to be loved by God and how I am obligated to share that love with others, I have the same reaction in the other direction. As someone who once served in professional ministry and now works in a secular environment, I am frequently regarded as secondhand goods, unable to meet the rigors of a spiritual life. So, unless I know someone personally or associate them with someone I respect, when I see the word Christian I still read the word “asshat.”

I suppose that I really view people unwilling to have a serious and respectful dialogue about difficult topics as asshats.

Once again the national rhetoric has heated up to the point where I want to resign from the human race and say “yeah, I don’t know those people.” The noise to signal ratio has risen to the point where nothing can be heard. Ironically, I choose to add to the noise:

Maybe it’s time to take marriage out of the hands of government.

That statement probably makes my conservative Christian friends cheer.  Be patient, I’ll probably piss you off too.  What I mean is that maybe it’s time to divide civil unions from marriage. If marriage is an institution defined by God and mandated as an expression of spiritual faithfulness, then let it remain within the domain of religious institutions.

On the other hand, allow the government to categorize people as “primary beneficiaries” as opposed to spouses for the purposes of taxes, health benefits, and legal responsibilities.

We do not honor God or exhibit a moral superiority by denying people the right to:
-stay with someone in a hospital or intensive care room after visiting hours.
-designate someone as deserving of health care benefits.
-receive estate or retirement benefits as intended.
-receiving the tax benefits of sharing property, possessions, and incomes.

On the other hand, the government should have no say in defining how a religious institution defines and structures marriage.  Churches should retain the right to choose which kinds of unions they will honor and sanctify. Churches should be allowed to become the moral compass they are intended to be for society. Let them lead by example, regardless of whether that example is one of strictly defined guidelines or open acceptance of diverse standards.  Churches should be the place where people look to see the ideals of marriage exemplified and honored best.

The bestowing of legal benefits to another individual under the law is not a degradation of the moral fiber of society. It is instead an affirmation of the foundations of equality established at the founding of the United States. Defining the debate over same-sex unions as a moral imperative is a disservice to both Christians and secular citizens alike. Forced morality is a poor way to govern, and it is a terrible witness to the life of a Christian.



7 thoughts on “Marriage and Law – I’m Surrounded By Jerks.

  • Allen Williams

    Excellent thoughts. I especially resonate with your concern over our inability to have respectful dialogue. This is true in the secular realm as well as churches. Thanks for speaking out so courageously, as well as respectfully.

  • jay

    Thanks, guys! I very much appreciate the comments. I wish that the comments here were as lively as the ones on my Facebook feed. Transposing some of that discussion to this site, I would add that much of the problem is with the word “marriage.” Many people consider it to be a spiritual word on par with salvation. TO THEM, you might as well debate how the government should regulate who should and should not be considered “saved.” That’s why I think that debate focused on the word “marriage” is a lose-lose scenario.

  • My thoughts exactly! I also think there are lots of heterosexual couples who get married in church but are not really subscribing to the idea of a God ordained covenant marriage.

    I also remind people that the US government is not a religious institution and conversely can’t tell religious institutions what they should believe.

  • Karen Bowman

    Great essay! Very similar to my thinking of late. I have very many Facebook friends who lately have been posting things like, “I support God’s definition of marriage.” To which I’m dying to respond, “Yes, you have supported God’s definition of marriage more than once!”

    • jay

      I also enjoy how various folks have pointed out the different types of marriage presented in the Bible. Like most things, it doesn’t seem to be as clear cut as people would like to believe.

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