See also The Marriage Pledge to which this refers
My ACI colleagues Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz have recently published a “Marriage Pledge” in the journal First Things in which they undertake to refrain from serving as agents of the state in marriage by, e.g., signing government-provided marriage certificates. Couples will be asked to contract civil marriage separately from “weddings that seek to establish a Christian marriage in accord with the principles articulated and lived out from the beginning of the Church’s life.” Their reasoning is that as civil marriage has been progressively redefined it no longer coincides with the Christian understanding of marriage: “to continue with church practices that intertwine government marriage with Christian marriage will implicate the Church in a false definition of marriage.”
…Many of the responses to the Marriage Pledge from both sides of the divide on same sex marriage have reflected substantial confusion over the distinction between Christian and civil marriage and what the role of the clergy is in the marriage ceremony. My purpose here is to clarify that distinction and then to evaluate criticisms of the Pledge in light of this discussion.
…The differences between Christian and civil marriage in New York (and note once again that the nature and terms of civil marriage vary from state to state) could hardly be more stark. Christian marriage is a lifelong union created by God between a man and a woman; New York civil marriage is a terminable contract between any two eligible people””no bigamy or incest””with terms specified and amended from time to time by the legislature and courts of the state of New York.
Practical Implementation of the Marriage Pledge
The purpose of the Marriage Pledge is to keep these radically different concepts of marriage distinct so that no one, whether inside or outside the Church, thinks they are the same. How might the Pledge work in practice?……
Given these considerations, any of the following options would be available to the couple and priest subscribing to the Marriage Pledge:
1.The couple first contracts a civil marriage either by a written contract or oral recitations at the courthouse followed at a convenient time by entering into a Christian marriage using any of the three matrimonial rites specified in the Book of Common Prayer: “The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage”; “The Blessing of a Civil Marriage”; or “An Order of Marriage.” All are consistent with the prior creation of a civil marriage contract.
2.The couple first enters into Christian marriage by means of either the first or third of the matrimonial rites followed in due course by contracting a civil marriage at the courthouse. The rite for “Blessing of a Civil Marriage” would not be appropriate for obvious reasons, but neither of the other two prohibits a subsequent civil contract. The rubrics for both require compliance with the civil law, but the civil law does not require a simultaneous””or even any””religious ceremony.
3.The couple could enter into a Christian marriage without entering into a civil contract at all. As noted earlier, one interpretation of the rubric and canonical requirement of compliance with civil law is that a civil contract is necessary, but civil law does not require that all religious marriages also be civil ones. Thus, the most likely effect of this provision is to prohibit bigamous and incestuous marriages.
Objections to the Marriage Pledge
It is in light of the above what to make of the objections made thus far to the Pledge?
What would we be doing in the rite of matrimony if not solemnizing civil marriage? Something new?
Not at all. The couples married in a Christian marriage would be doing what they have always been doing since the earliest days of the church””and doing in the Episcopal Church since the publication of the 1789 Book of Common Prayer: entering into the “holy estate” of matrimony, the physical and spiritual union created by God upon the making of a public covenant by the bride and groom through their vows. In contrast, as the Ponorovskaya court noted, marriage licenses are “a relatively recent innovation, with statewide registration of marriages not having begun until 1881 at the earliest.”
Clergy taking the Marriage Pledge are leaving the distasteful actions to the couple rather than doing that work themselves and getting their hands dirty.
Hardly. Nothing in either the Pledge or the light of reason suggests there is anything “dirty” about civil marriage. It provides tax benefits to many couples and opens up useful strategies for maximizing Social Security benefits. It is often necessary in private commerce for securing benefits such as health insurance. The fact that non-believers, adherents of other religions and those not eligible for Christian marriage enter these civil contracts as well has no moral significance. They also obtain passports and drivers’ licenses, both of which can be useful to Christians as well. Civil marriage is not distasteful; it can be good. But it is not Christian marriage””although many (including some of the objectors) confuse the two. Hence the need for the Pledge.
This means abandoning the fight for traditional civil marriage in the public square.
Not at all. The fight for traditional civil marriage is based on natural law and the protection and flourishing of society. It cannot be based on an identification or conflation of Christian and civil marriage for they are not and never have been the same thing. The fight to preserve civil marriage, however, is not the same as the fight to protect and strengthen Christian marriage. As public surveys, divorce rates and even the responses to the Marriage Pledge demonstrate, too many people both inside and outside the church equate Christian marriage with whatever the state authorities determine civil marriage to be at any given time. The Marriage Pledge is one effort to change that misconception.
Read it all and there is a shortened version without the BCP, canonical and legal references on First Things