Thursday, June 27, 2013

Wondering Out Loud about Marriage and the Church

Help me out here.

In the wake of the gay marriage rulings from SCOTUS yesterday (June 26, 2013 for those who will read this in centuries to come, since everything on the internet is permanent … so they say), there are renewed calls for the separation of civil and religious marriage, to “get the church out of the marriage business.” My question is, Would this change anything? Read on to see how it might.

In many countries, civil and religious marriage is already separate. A civil marriage must be performed by a civil judge or magistrate and a religious marriage is performed by a pastor or priest. The only one that counts for civil and legal benefits is the civil marriage. So a couple might get married at the courthouse on Friday afternoon and at the church on Saturday. Thus, they are legally married on Friday, but they are not “married in the eyes of God” until Saturday. My guess is that most pastors in these countries would forbid (as much as they could) a couple from engaging in intimacy on Friday (that particular Friday anyway).

In the US, currently pastors perform civil marriages under the purview of a marriage license obtained from the government. Some say this makes the pastor an illegitimate agent of the state. I disagree, but whatever. Whatever else, the pastors are performing legal, civil marriages.

This raises an interesting (at least to me) issue. In ethical debates about marriage, the issue is sometimes raised of a man and woman who would like to marry. However, said marriage would result in the loss of benefits from now deceased spouses (such as pensions and health benefits, survivor benefits, etc. which, for some, can only be received so long as a spouse does not remarry). But that remarriage is determined by civil law, which is to say that a couple could cohabit under civil law, and maintain the benefits so long as they are not civilly married.

If civil and religious marriages are separated, could this burden of staying single be lifted. If a couple does not intend to apply for governmental marriage benefits (i.e., tax filing, spousal privilege, hospital visitation, etc.), they could refuse a civil marriage. They could however have a religious marriage for religious purposes.

QUICK TRIVIA QUESTION: What do Michigan, Mississippi, and Florida have in common? They are the only three states with laws against cohabitation of unmarried people (though I have never heard of it being prosecuted).

Given that forty-seven states have no civil laws against cohabitation, this couple would not be breaking any civil laws (and thus not be in violation of Romans 13 and 1 Peter 2). In such a case, they are only prevented from civil benefits that accrue from civil marriage (such as tax filing, social security survivor benefits, hospital visitation, etc., all things which the gay marriage crowd was intent on having).

Since this hypothetical couple would not be violating any civil laws if civil and religious marriage is made a separate issue, could this couple now pursue a religious marriage (a “marriage in the eyes of God”) and live together with all the marital benefits ordained by God, while not having a civil marriage and losing the benefits to which they are entitled?

Up til now, most have said that this couple, if they desire to live together, should get married and give up the benefits. Or stay single and keep them.

Does this provide a solution by retaining the civil status of single/widowed/unmarried, but having the religious status of married?

I am not wild about the idea (yet), but I am curious.

What say ye?


d4v34x said...

So someone who chooses to get married by a judge is not married in the eyes of God?

Larry said...

Hmmmmm ... Hadn't thought about that. I would say so. Interesting thought. I think part of marriage is what the couple intends to do. If, in civil marriage, they intend to form a monogamous, lifelong marriage relationship, then yes, they are married in the eyes of God, though I am not sure I like "the eyes of God terminology."

Like I say, I am just thinking out loud here. I am narrowly tailoring the scenario to the one described above of the couple who stands to lose benefits if they get married. Does this provide a legitimate basis for them to get married while maintaining benefits?

d4v34x said...

I think that, while your scenario provides a legal basis, there remain other ethical considerations.

If the notion of forsaking all others is inherent in marriage (even if not explicit in the vows) should a widow(er) expect to take benefits residual from a former marriage into a new one?

Larry said...

But have we ever expected a widow or widower to give up financial benefits from the first marriage in order to remarry? It seems that would have implications on 401Ks, IRAs, savings accounts, life insurance, even a house that is owned. Those are residual benefits from the first marriage that I don't think anyone has ever said must be forsaken for a new marriage. I don't see why a pension or health benefits would be any different.

d4v34x said...

I'd say the distinction for me would be between something possessed (most of what you listed) vs. continuing support (like Social Security). I will say that, not having one, I never realized a wife could not contiue to receive her deceased husband's pension.

Larry said...

I don't know how common it is now to lose benefits upon remarriage, but I think it used to be more common. I have heard stories of it.

I think most pension recipients disagree that it is not possessed, or at least that it is not money they are entitled to. It was money they payed in, that was matched over time and paid out by a formula.

Here in Detroit, there is a big brouhaha going on over pensions. Long story, but in essence, 40% of Detroit's budget is legacy costs (retiree benefits such as pensions and health benefits) and the only way out for Detroit is serious cuts to these legacy costs. The unions are saying that that is their money. In some cases, pensions were increased in lieu of pay increases, which essentially became a deferred salary of sorts.

I can't imagine a worse retirement benefit than a pension in most cases ... well, except for social security.