But we didn’t make it legal.
This week, in a series of posts, I’m going to try to unpack what I think is a very important point in the debate over marriage in our country right now. People say that marriage is broken, or that marriage is up-for-grabs. Neither is true. Actually, there are two marriages in America.
On the one hand, there’s legal marriage. It’s sanctioned by the state, and it’s available to any two adults who desire to enter into a legally binding contract with one another (some states limit this contractual opportunity to opposite-gendered persons). Legal marriage affords the married couple as many as 515 benefits that are not afforded to non-married persons, and it is officially incentivized by our government. And legal marriage has nothing to do with sexual intimacy.
On the other hand, there’s sacramental marriage, which is defined by communities of faith. This marriage accrues neither governmental benefits nor tax incentives. However, sexual intimacy is of great interest to this marriage, since the sacred texts of all religions have lots to say about sex. Sacramental marriage is about what God wants — and that is, of course, a matter of interpretation and debate among Christians. Nevertheless, it is sacred in a way that legal marriage is not and, as such, it is the more important version of marriage.
Why not? Well, that’s what I’ll be attempting to show at length in a series of blog posts this week. But, in short, here’s why:
- The sacred ceremony of marriage is far more important to us than the legal contract of marriage.
- We don’t really care if the government considers us married. We’re far more interested in our marriage being solemnized by our family, friends, and community of faith.
- We don’t think that we should enjoy the 515 benefits of legal marriage when so many of our friends cannot.
- I do not think that clergy should act as agents of the government (as I’ve written before), and I did not want to ask my friend, Doug, to do so.
I realize that I’m asserting a view that some call the difference between civil unions and marriage, and that may be so. But if that’s the way we’re going to go, then we should change all state-sanctioned arrangements (including existing heterosexual ones) of this type to civil unions.
In any case, a change in terminology would be helpful, because legal marriage and sacramental marriage, while they do have some overlap, are really completely different. And for us to move forward in this contentious time, we’ve got to get this difference straight.