Faith in History
Why Churches Should Stop Performing Marriages
Churches would not lose anything by taking this approach to marriage, except perhaps some disgruntled folks who have to go elsewhere to get their marriage certificates. Couples who chose to wed in biblical matrimony would gain a lot, and the benefits to American society would be numerous. Rampant divorce is especially harmful to the psychological and economic standing of children. We all seem intuitively to understand that being married for a lifetime is an honorable, healthy thing, and that a life spent in a series of heartbreaks and divorces is bad (think Larry King or Elizabeth Taylor).
But I see little chance that the government could ever require a covenantal model of marriage. (Louisiana, Arkansas, and Arizona have legally adopted "covenant marriage" options, making divorce more difficult for those who choose this designation, but these efforts have had very limited success.) Because they are incapable of mandating the requirements of biblical matrimony, state governments will have to keep treating marriage like a Las Vegas wedding chapel does: no distinctions made, no questions asked, just pay up and kiss the bride.
Fighting to make the government defend a biblical view of marriage—including exclusively heterosexual marriage—is a losing battle precisely because the government can't play the role of the church. The government and many churches have long since defined marriage as the union of any two people who want to say they are married and who wish to avail themselves of the tax advantages thereof.
Fighting to exclude gays and lesbians from this largely meaningless arrangement is a paltry diversion. The church would be better served to stop performing civil marriages for the state and fight for a truly sacred cause: renewing the biblical meaning of matrimony within the church.
Thomas S. Kidd teaches history and is a Senior Fellow at Baylor University's Institute for Studies of Religion. He is the author of Patrick Henry: First Among Patriots and God of Liberty: A Religious History of the American Revolution. Follow his writings via Facebook and Twitter.