There Are Two Marriages

I got married on July 13. In a church, by a pastor, surrounded by family and friends.  We wore wedding clothes.  We had a reception.  You can see the pictures.  It really happened.

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.

Courtney and I got married, as I wrote above, on July 13.  We were married in the sacramental way, but we did not ask for the imprimatur of the State of Minnesota on our marriage by means of buying a license at the Hennepin County Service Center.

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:

  1. The sacred ceremony of marriage is far more important to us than the legal contract of marriage.
  2. 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.
  3. We don’t think that we should enjoy the 515 benefits of legal marriage when so many of our friends cannot.
  4. 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.

See all the posts in this series here.  And get my $.99 ebook on marriage here.

  • JoeyS

    A friend of mine tried as he might to find a pastor that would do a non-legal marriage. He did not find one. Most pastors had no idea what he was talking about. His hope was to marry sacramentally and then a few months later make it legal. I was sad that no pastor he talked to understood the distinction. Seminaries have failed in that regard.

    • LisaE

      As a pastor, I would have understood the distinction… surprised your friend couldn’t find someone to perform the ceremony. I certainly would have.

    • Rachel

      That is weird…we had a non-legal marriage first and had two pastors involved in our wedding, both of whom were perfectly understanding of our non-legal wedding…although ours was due to immigration issues so that may have made a difference to them…

      • http://patheos john

        Im having this problem, we want to get married and keep it a secret from the gov. but we both want to live right with god, any pastors names would be of great help.JOHN

    • JoeyS

      Yes, I think they only went to their respective “home” churches to try. He is getting his PhD in Eastern Orthodox theology and political philosophy so he had some unique requests to boot. Although, he did not have an Orthodox wedding.

      • Jim P

        I’ve been asked… I understood… and I declined.

        Not because I don’t think there are two marriages, but because the couple getting married were both widows and they were going to lose benefits by having a civil marriage. They were wanting to use sacramental marriage as leverage to maintain benefits. My point is… this door swings both ways.

        Seniors and retirees can manipulate sacramental marriage just as much as anyone else can manipulate civil marriage. Young and immature believers, who do not get the “community aspect” of sacred marriage, in a moment of passion can easily tell themselves (in all sincerity), “Let’s just do this, and we’ll consider ourselves married in God’s sight… tonight will be our marriage.” How well do you think that is going to work out?

        When I was asked to do a sacramental marriage, I thought, “this isn’t about trusting Jesus or honoring God, it’s about the flesh and securing their future without trusting Christ.” I also thought about the teenagers in my church, and the twenty-somethings who told me they were “already married in God’s eyes” only to break up a few months later. If one is going to take this path that Tony is presenting they better be prepared to go all-in, and understand that beyond the valor and idealism, there also lies potential consequences. If you think civil marriage is shallow… just wait until immature and nominal believers realize that “sacred marriage” is an option to justify sex without being formally or legally married. LOL! I personally am not ready to take that leap yet, but I do look forward to wrestling with the idea.

        • camillofan

          Wow, I’m a stranger who’s wandered in from nowhere and probably has no right to insert herself into the conversation, but I would have thought that two widowed people (presumably Christians who’d’ve sought a church wedding in any case) whose pensions would be compromised by civil marriage would be a paradigmatic case for sacramental-only. Of course, I don’t know the couple in question; perhaps I’m making them older and more dependent on those pensions in my imagination than they are/were in real life. But it’s far from self-evident to an outsider that the request must indicate a failure to trust the Lord.

          • Mary

            I appreciate these comments supporting why 2 widowed people might want to be married in the eyes of God and the church but not legally.

            My BF & I are both widows. He is 56, I am 49. We were both stay at home parents & our spouses had high paying jobs. I am still a SAHM. If we get married before age 60 we both lose substantial SS benefits. Benefits our spouses paid into the system but did not get to collect. Neither of us have enough time to pay into the system enough money to be able to live on in our retirement.

            We are not looking to jump into a sacrimental marriage lightly or quickly but I also have a hard time with not getting married for 10 years to protect our benefits. Our relationship is long distance. At some point we want to make it not long distance and get married and commit ourselves to each other in front of family and friends. We don’t just want to live together, especially me, who has young children still. While he would only need to wait 4 years, I have to wait a little over 10. And let’s say we did enter into marriage legally before turning 60 and ten years later one of us dies. Then not only will we have lost our love twice but it that were to happen within 10 years of getting married we would still be able to collect on our 1st spouses SS but after 10 years we wouldn’t and then could really be in a financial bind.

            We both made decisions, with our spouses, concerning our households and children not expected to be widowed in our mid 40′s (he’s been widowed a bit longer than me). It’s wonderful to have found love again. We would like God to be a part of this relationship by having it blessed through marriage in the church but we also know that trusting God doesn’t mean lightening can’t strike twice (and I actually know widows who have been widowed twice). Bad things do happen to good Christian people, all the time. I do trust God and feel he has brought this person into my life and hope to be able to one day marry him without putting our retirement years in jeopardy.

        • Stephen

          I think you’re assuming the worst in regards to this widowed couple, which I believe to be unjust. Maybe you knew them intimately and so knew they were basically “ripping off the system”. If not, then you seem to presume upon what their true intentions were in quite an extreme way. I can understand immatue believers might make the error of jumping into marriage, as you suggest.

          • TK

            Are they ripping off the system, or is the system ripping them off?

        • Lenny D

          You need to follow what the bibe says and if a couple wants to marry you are to marry them to prevent fornication (unless you can show either one cheating on the other)this is your duty,, they do not need to enter into another binding contract of the state and yes TK the state would be ripping them off of the contractual marriage monies they entered into and served that contract to the end of it.. A minster is not a “watch dog” of the state he is a watchdog of the bible. Marry them to avoid fornication and then figure the other problem you seem to see after you have done the right thing .

    • Cameron

      This is apparently quite common in some European countries. Ministers aren’t authorised to perform weddings. Couples will have a legal wedding at the government office, and when desired the church will perform a sacramental wedding.

      I was explaining the way we do it here in Australia (where the minister looks after all the legal and ceremonial details) to a Swiss friend recently, and he couldn’t get over the idea of a minister having this sort of state function.

  • Robert Shell

    Look forward to reading more. Been on my mind a lot lately. I had a professor at Bethel who holds this view explain it to us. I was surprised that a lot of the students didn’t know what to do with it. Makes a lot of sense to me. Just trying to figure how this would look played out within the church.

    • Tony Jones

      Robert, what professor is that?

      • Robert Shell

        Steve Enderlien. He was my greek prof and we talked about it in class at times. From what I know he is a pretty conservative guy, but he seemed to be a big supporter of having marriage just be a sacred thing, and you could just go to the state for the state stuff. Now I don’t know his full personal view on all this, but that is how he explained it in class when we asked his thoughts on it.

        Anyways, I look forward to reading the rest of these entries. Besides the conversations in class this is something a group of us at school have often discussed.

  • Michael Nielsen

    Tony, Congratulations! You and Courtney are wonderful people!

    This topic is fascinating to me as well. In my first marriage, my ex-wife-to-be was Catholic and we needed a special “blessing” to make sure our Lutheran wedding would be recognized by the Catholic church. After getting divorced, the Catholic chuch would technically have to grant a dispensation to nullify what it once granted an exception to honor and cherish. The state, at least, just asks for money and a blood test instead of all the BS Pomp and Circumstance…

    What’s in your heart is most important, I agree. Definitely worth more than just one cup of coffee or a beer in a discussion…

  • Steve K.

    Amen. Looking forward to you unpacking this, Tony.

  • Kimberly


    I am grateful for the way in which you’ve invested in the marriage discussion with your own life. Your partner’s commitment to your commitments is beautiful.

    There are so many facets to this discussion. Another angle is the sacramental (rather than legal) marriage that senior couples, in late life marriages, CHOOSE due to issues of fiduciary responsibilities to their first families or to protect (as best they can these days) their social security. I was blessed to be asked by my father, who previously shunned me for years because I am a lesbian in a committed relationship) to officiate his sacramental wedding to a woman with whom he fell in love only a few short months after my mother’s passing. When I walked into that little chapel in the Smokey Mountains to stand with my father, his bride and in front of our families it was a amazing moment.

    Blessings to you and your beloved!


  • Lock

    “…since the sacred texts of all religions have lots to say about sex.”

    I would be interested in some examples of sacred texts that speak positively about same-sex sex, or group sex, or bi-sex. I know that Islam covers exhaustively polygamy of one man and multiple women marriages and concubinage, but I would be interested in seeing some sacred texts that speak directly of other kinds sanctioned sexual activity.

    • Justin

      Scripture can certainly interpreted in many ways… and this is another good reason for allowing churches to have discretion in who they perform marriages for.
      A homophobic church should be able to deny a gay couple a sacramental wedding in their chapel… but a gay friendly church is surely around the corner and would be happy to honor the commitment of loving couples in the eyes of God.

      • Jon Trouten

        Churches currently have that ability to choose to marry any couples (or refuse to marry any couple for that matter). That goes for States like Virginia that don’t allow gay couples to marry and that goes for states like Iowa that do.

  • cara

    this recent seminary grad totally agrees! i have planned on giving every couple who approach me the option of sacramental marriage alone. it’s that agent-of-the-state thing… should i add an earpiece and a personal security detail to my alb-and-stole style? :) thanks for breaking it down – i’m actually going to save a link to this for those future couples. – Cara

  • Suzanne

    Thank you for the discussion. As you well know,
    Joe and I were denied a sacramental marriage 25 years ago since he was excommunicated for leaving the priesthood. There is seemingly no end to the ways the “church” creates insiders and outsiders.

    • Greg


      I, too, am confused by excommuication. Wouldn’t the healing of the wound and the wounded be completed faster and more completely by the communion of the Church rather than by the separation?

  • Charlotte

    I have been saying this as well, yet you put it so eloquently. There are 2 marriages for sure and if any person thinks that it’s strictly a religious ceremony then they have never had to file divorce papers at the courthouse….where you pick up your marriage lisc.

  • Jamey W

    Time did a piece a couple of years ago on a similar proposition by a couple of law professors from Pepperdine University. Here is the link:,8599,1885190,00.html

  • Darren

    Amen to this, Tony!

    My husband and I had two marriages: one (legal) in VT, which was very special, but the FAR MORE SIGNIFICANT to us was the (non-legal) ceremony we had at our church in Maryland – surrounded by friends and family. There’s something to be said about the communal/spiritual uniting of two people in that social setting. The law wasn’t important to us during the latter wedding: this was a sacred event between the person I loved most in the world and I.

    At the same time, our CIVIL MARRIAGE was not sacred. It was practical. It was for legal protections and the like. And while those things are important, the fact of the matter is that they paled in comparison to our spiritual union: a union that I STRONGLY feel the government should have NO say in since it was basically my husband and I exercising our FREEDOM OF RELGION (since our Christian faith dictated to us that the righteous, God-honoring thing to do was make a life-long commitment to the one I love).

    So I personally believe the government should only be in the business of CIVIL MARRIAGE. However, since they seem to have some say in marriage in total, then it seems to me that they government is infringing on my FREEDOM OF RELIGION in *not* recognizing the marriage that our church has sanctioned, while at the same time recognizing all church-sanctioned heterosexual marriages. It’s discrimination, plain and simple. If the government wants to recognize what the church deems “marriage”, it should do so across the board, rather than siding with certain denominations and institutions over others.

  • Sarah Moon

    My thoughts exactly! Great points! :)

  • Allen

    As a gay Christian, I knew I could have what you’re calling a sacramental marriage ceremony any time, I had attended a few before meeting my guy. (In fact, we met at one!) I was so angry at the state’s refusal to grant us a marriage license that I did not want to have the one without the other. It did not feel “real.”
    In 2008, when California changed its interpretation of the law to allow same-gender marriages to be licensed, we had a nice big church wedding with family and friends, and a license signed by non-hetero clergy. It felt real, and it was.
    Our marriage is still not recognized by the federal government and most of the states, but it’s a start.

  • Mike Croghan

    Excellent, Tony. Really looking forward to this series.

  • tyler priest


    only kidding.

  • Ellis

    I have to say though I agree with much of what you say (as someone who had a legal then sacramental wedding- to the same person) sexual intimacy IS still important to the legal framework both in the UK and in the US. I know of annulments both sides of ocean due to the marriage not being consummated.

    Secondly… And I am sure it was not your intention, but in your desire ‘get round the system’ on gay marriage you may alienate many for whom their legal wedding was important and meaningful.

  • Kristen

    Hypothetical question.

    A non-Christian couple gets civilly married at City Hall. They subsequently come to Christ and join the church. Does the church recognize their union? Should it? Is there some sort of ceremony to bless their marriage? Should there be?

    Or, an already-Christian couple, for whatever reasons of their own choosing, has a quick and simple ceremony at the county courthouse. They definitely consider themselves married in the sight of God, that’s just the way they did things.

    Did they do anything wrong? Is a quick-and-simple ceremony in the pastor’s office okay, but quick-and-simple at City Hall verboten? Do they need to do something to regularize their status with the church?

    When you keep talking about two separate senses of marriage — and as someone who was Catholic for 30 years I agree! — it seems to me that it has to cut both ways.

    And I don’t think I’ve EVER seen a Protestant church say, imply, or otherwise intimate that couples who got married at City Hall have done something wrong and ought to regularize their situation in much the same way that unmarried cohabiting couples ought to.

    Should they?

    • Cameron

      I know of a couple in Africa who were studying at seminary together. They fell in love and planned to marry in the break between ordination and taking up their first appointment.

      The break came and they went home—it turned out they were from the same tribal area. Their families welcomed the arrangement and they had a wedding according to the tribal tradition. Whilst it wasn’t a strictly Christian wedding, there was nothing about the ceremony which was hurtful to their Christian beliefs or practice.

      When they returned to take up their appointment the powers-that-be enquired about the wedding. When it transpired that the wedding hadn’t been run according to our denominational rite, and that the marriage had been consummated, the two newly minted pastors were required to have a ‘real’ wedding immediately. They were also placed out of ministry for six months, which is the standard response to couples who have sex outside of marriage.

  • Rachel

    Congratulations! We also considered this option but due to the fact that we were from different countries couldn’t figure out a way to make it work without ending up dealing with the state even more in order to be together…if we had been from the same country we probably would have also chosen to go this route…

  • Norton


    You take an interesting position on this issue and I’m looking forward to your unpacking it. I do have a series of questions: is your local church registered as a non-profit corporation with the State of Minnesota and do they take advantage of non-profit status (with the state and federal gov’t) and do you–assuming you donate to your church–take advantage of the donations being tax-deductible? If yes to all the above, isn’t this a similar situation whereby ministers act as in legal roles (usually they are the “President of the Corporation” and have an official role on the “Board of Directors” in the founding Articles of Incorporation) and a covenant community of faith is identified according to organizational principles dictated by the government and takes advantage of benefits not afforded to other organizations (for-profit)? And aren’t donors taking advantage of benefits the government grants? In other words, while it’s not exactly parallel to the specific issue you’re describing, one could argue that a consistent position would dictate that local churches should not be recognized by the government or receive any benefits (and nor should donors). I’m curious if you see this as different.


  • Lisa Colón DeLay

    Mick Jaggar was ahead of the curve on this fun and sexy sacramental stuff. But 9 years later…No satisfaction.

  • Richard

    A thought.

    I think a theology of sacramental marriage has to go hand in hand with a theology of place, community, and church. The great weakness of sacramental marriage is that, due to the transitory and superficial nature of American church membership, the marriage is more fragile when we move or walk away from the community. Legal marriage is more robust, due to its legal infrastructure, in the face of our movements (e.g., to a different part of the country). It’s harder to “walk away” from the State than it is from the local church community.

    This isn’t a criticism, just an observation that the sacrament of marriage is only as strong as the lifetime commitment to the witnessing community. In a sense, you have to become married to both–partner and community–at the same time. You can’t casually hand a “certificate of divorce” to either.

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  • david carlson

    I think by not choosing a civil ceremony (in addition to your sacramental one) you are choosing to place your wife in harms way should you become ill or die.

    Visitation/decision making in the hospital
    Social Security
    Retirement benefits
    Taxes (you can still file single if married to make a point)
    and a host of other things

    Are all made far easier if you have a civil marriage ceremony. And, while I can understand your choice, I really do not see any biblical requirements that you do not also engage in a civil arrangement.

    Your making a point, but not one required by the bible. And by doing so, you are potentially failing to provide for your family (which I think is in the bible)

    • Rachel F.

      David, you bring up some very valid points. It is much more difficult to go the route Tony has taken. And there may be challenges ahead for him and his beloved. As someone who has taken the same position as Tony (lovely church ceremony in 2008, no civil ceremony), I know these challenges well (my partner was offered a job in Canada, so we’ve had to deal with immigration issues as a non-legally married couple). But for us, me and my partner, it was a a stand in solidarity with our LGBTQ sisters and brothers who face these challenges each and every day. We refuse to be beneficiaries of an unjust state. So, yes, these are valid concerns, and ones which Tony and his partner will have to address.

      Where I struggle with your comment is the assumption that it is somehow TONY’s role to be a provider, not a joint commitment they both have to the union to provide for each other. What is her role in providing for the family? I somehow doubt that anyone who makes this kind of thoughtful stand with her partner is someone who is helpless and unable to take care of business should tragedy strike. I trust they can both be resourceful and find ways to ensure that the other is cared for.

      Tony and beloved, yes, you will face challenges as you embark on this journey or sacred union without the “blessing” of the state. But it is not impossible. May God bless you with creative energy as you find ways to deal with challenges that come your way.

  • Rachel F.

    Oh, I am so excited to read this series. (Sorry, I know I am a bit late to the game here, but I just found out about this from Rachel Held Evans’ blog.)

    You see, we, my partner and I, also opted out of a legal ceremony, instead, trusting that our vows before God, family, friends, and three ministers presiding (not to mention the dozen or so ministers in the pews), were enough the sanctify our union.

    And as a Christian minister, I, too, don’t want to be an agent of the government, especially when the government applies marriage laws unjustly, denying access to so many people.

    I have long felt that there are two marriages (here is a letter I wrote to the NYTimes about this in 2007: And for so long, I felt I was alone in my beliefs. I look forward to reading what you have to say here and to see where our thoughts connect and where you might challenge me in ways places where we may not agree. I have not been so excited about a blog series for a while. It feels like Christmas Eve! Thanks.

  • chris

    been rollin this around in my head for a while. i want my relationship to be recognized by God. i want to take vows with the man who has been my partner and my best friend. i want what we share to be right in the eyes of God. thank you for thinking out loud… i will be reading.

  • Bizzy Bender

    First of all Congratulations!! Loved looking/listening to your wedding photos and really loved that you included your dogs and lots of children!!

    I married and divorced my first husband with ease. I married my husband of 21 yrs in the sight of the Lord and nothing will separate us because of that. That commitment means more than any legal document could ever mean. What God has joined together, let no man separate!

  • Kellen Freeman

    Thank you for this post. I think I might use this as an example in debate over marriage. I’ve often been bothered by the lack of understanding that some people have about my views that if two people can get married at the courthouse without God in it, then why should the church get into the fight of who can get married. In my view, if the state wants to legalize a certain type of marriage, the church shouldn’t have to perform that type, but I don’t think it’s the church’s job to limit what kind of marriage can happen in the state.

  • Jonathan

    When we become Christians, we have two primary duties. One is to evangelize and share Christ with an unbelieving world. The other is to put our new minds and hearts to work in the world for God’s purposes.

    But today we’re not doing either. From pastors who lack the courage to boldly proclaim the truth of God’s Word to Christians who lack the courage to try and convey to people why following Biblical principles leads to human flourishing and not following them leads ultimately to disaster – for society and for the soul.

    Most Christians agree that homosexuality is sinful and they therefore know that homosexual marriage is sinful. But they lack the courage, the boldness and the intellectual arguments to speak out lovingly against it. They fool themselves into believing that showing tolerant acceptance of a sinful lifestyle is the best way to show God’s love. We should accept and love all people, no matter what their sins, but true love also means truthfully sharing with people what God’s Word says on a variety of topics, including this one.

    Even a cursory look at history shows that the farther a society strays from Biblical principles the harsher, meaner and more dangerous that society becomes. And a brief look at statistics on the homosexual lifestyle shows that it is by far the most dangerous lifestyle healthwise, to be in. Gay men die on average 10-15 years earlier than straight men.

    Knowing this, then wouldn’t true love mean sharing with our gay friends and neighbors the reality of God’s Word on the Gospel and on homosexuality. But instead what we see are Christians suddenly becoming political libertarians in order to justify their silence.

    When we have prominent churches telling members to go out into the city to get “glimpses” of God’s truth from the secular world, instead of teaching them to lovingly confront the secular world with God’s truth, it’s no surprise that Christians are buying into the world’s lies about this lifestyle. And no surprise that they lack the courage to speak up about it.

    I took a non-Christian, bi-sexual female friend to my new church recently. During the sermon the pastor mentioned several sins and among them was homosexuality. I squirmed! But after the service she became uncharacteristically quite and then she looked up at me and said, “you know, I’ve done a lot of really bad things in my life.” She was convicted by the Holy Spirit of her sin because this pastor was willing to boldly and lovingly tell the truth about it.

    We do the world no service by remaining silent on controversial issues. And we don’t live in love by sitting silently on the sidelines.

    • Jill

      Jonathan: I pray that you will have some honest, open conversations with Christians with whom you disagree rather than assuming you know our courage or lack thereof. As a Christian pastor and student of the Bible, my support of same-gender marriage has nothing to do with giving in to culture. It has everything to do with following Jesus and his willingness to question religious law as interpreted by flawed human beings, especially when it excluded and marginalized people.
      When you advocate the closing of all financial institutions in our country because Jesus said not to store up treasures on earth and not to lend money at interest, then I will believe your concerns are based on biblical literalism. Until then, I must assume that you have been led astray in your understanding of Christ by those who are buying in to the culture’s homophobia.

      • Jonathan

        Wow Jill, I’m stunned by your statement. So then you must believe God is guilty of excluding and marginalizing people because it is He who made homosexuality a sin.

        Well, at least we’re clear on where you stand.

  • Noel Anderson

    Either Church or State has to get out of the marriage business.
    Patheos article:

  • Darryl W. Stephens

    Thanks for a provocative post. I agree that clergy and the churches they serve have not adequately reflected on what it means to be an agent of the state when conducting legal marriage ceremonies. This confusion has led to untenable moral positions, some of which the church simply abandons over time. For an interesting parallel between divorce and homosexuality, see my article on Methodism and clergy ethics: “Moral Exemplar or Ethical Professional? Clergy and Sexual Sin in Methodist Church Law.” Methodist Review, Vol. 3 (2011).

  • Terrisa

    Tony, I would like to thank you sincerely for bringing attention to something we (including me) do not often even notice, the fact that there IS a difference, there are two marriages. At first I thought this post was going to address heterosexual and homosexual marriage (though in my own mind, I don’t see much of a difference between those two). I’m thankful that you’ve turned my own attention to the difference between contractual legal union and sacramental union.

    I am a recovering Southern Baptist. I still own books called The Truth about Same-Sex Marriage and the Homosexual Agenda. I’m trying to figure out something real creative to do with them ;-) And I sometimes forget that while it is certainly a huge issue of influence from the evangelical church (I don’t mean to use “labeling language” but let’s be honest), it is still a government issue. I have the power to influence this issue through speaking BOTH to the church AND to my government. Neither can be overlooked; both must be engaged.

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  • TJJ

    Well, best wishes to you and your significany other. You and all those who heartily follow in your footsteps on this, may think there are two marriages and you are married. But if and when one person in the cozy next decides they want out, both will soon realize they are in fact not married. The leaver will find they have no legal consequences or responsibilities, and the left will find they have no legal recourse. Whoever if financially more socially and financially secure will be fine, whoever is not, will find they are not fine.

    We can curse the state, the law, society norms. But all have wvolved over time to their current form for reasons and purposes. In the case of marriage law, in the last 100 years the laws have evolvced to protect the financially weaker and vulnerable spouse and the dependent children.

    To the degree you influence people to forego legal marriage in persuit of your liberal social agenda, you also lead people to forego important legal rights and protections if things do not work out. Which in about half the cases, they won’t.

    Good luck when a woman with two preschool kids call you at 2am and says she just got kicked out of the mans house, and has no money, no job, nowhere to go, and the lawyer she called said there was little he could do but try and help her get child support for a retainer of $5,000.

    • AMB

      Now TIJ, I think you’ve made a great point. I am not in agreement with same sex marriages but my interest was the difficulty in getting divorced and individuals wanting to move on as Christians without sabotaging their witness being that they don’t believe in shacking.
      People are going to do what they want and there’s no stopping right now. This conversation has brought up some very interesting points I have to consider involving the influence of state and church and the rights they’re entitled to.
      It’s a shame that you have to pick and choose. For an older couple the laws are really unfair but to the mother you just describe, legality is everything. Thanks you guys!

  • tommyab

    that’s very interesting
    and quite revolutionnary

  • cherie

    I live on the Southshore in Ma and have been looking for a pastor to marry me without the state sanctioned license. No luck at all. Maybe someone out there can help me?

    • priscilla

      Hi cheri I was wondering if your situation has changed..I am in mass and looking for the same thing and don’t know where to start to look.

  • Quaker-ish

    I’m getting married in a few months. In both Pennsylvania and Colorado, they have what is known as “self-uniting” marriage certificates that can be requested, and when one gets married using one of these certificates, no agent of the state is involved. Literally, the couple stands before each other and marries themselves to each other before God. The only signature required on the certificates are that of the couple, and of two people at the joining that witnessed it.

    This avoids some of the issues you mentioned about making your pastor a representative of the state. I like this certificate because instead of it making ANYONE an emissary of the state, it more or less allows the state to recognize that a wedding has been created between a couple.

    This doesn’t address any of the other issues you have as far as gay marriage – but it does address some of the clergy/state issue. For us, our concern is not that we don’t want a pastor to be a state representative (while that is a good point though) but for us, the issue is that we don’t BELIEVE in clergy, being more in line with organic/housechurch sensibilities. So we don’t want to go along with a system that enforces the idea that an official has to enact a marriage, when it is a couple themselves who are getting married. I never understood why at most marriages, the pastor ends up being the center of attention with a 45 minute sermon in the middle of the marriage. I think marriage should be about the couple, not the officiant. So …bye bye officiant! :) Glad I live in one of the two states that allows us to do this!

  • Lay

    I am a newlywed and we are both believers. We got married in city hall because we couldn’t afford a wedding. So, does this mean God doesn’t recognize our commitment? Is it necessary to get married in a church by a pastor and where a big white dress?

    • Renna

      My husband and I did the same thing, got married in the courthouse. And my mom did object, thinking it meant we wouldn’t be married in the eyes of God. Obviously that’s silly.

      I think what that means is that a civil marriage can function just fine as a sacramental marriage too, assuming the two people mean to be making the actual commitment of marriage to one another. But the sacramental aspect is still different, and separable from the legal aspect.

  • Candice

    Thankyou, for posting this. I have been trying to find someone, anyone, who supports my views. I am a religious woman, but my current situation doesnt allow me to get legally married without screwing up my entire medical situation (email me for questions). It is unfortunate that it is said that church and state are separate, when in fact they are clearly not. I have been searching for about a year on this dilema, and I knew there had to be people out there that have gone through what I am going through. God did say to give to Ceasar what is his, but to first give to God what is Gods first. So, I would consider my situation one instance where I am being persecuted by the law, by it making it nearly impossible to be legally married. If I did, I would surely have to make a choice of food for my family or medical supplies to stay alive (not going to get into the details right now). So again, Thankyou

  • BobW

    I’ve been saving the link to this blog for quite a while (obviously) and have just been questioned by a couple if I would facilitate their sacramental ceremony. Here’s my concern…for one of them, this is a second marriage with kids involved. I’m concerned that the civil financial/visitation/etc rights due to them in the (statistical) possibility of a divorce would be important. Otherwise, would they be left with a moral obligation only to each other?

    • Tony Jones

      I don’t understand, Bob. Are you asking whether a legal marriage would protect their yet-unborn children, or the children that they bring to the marriage? In either case, the State of Minnesota doesn’t care if you’re legally married or not. They’ll still be sure that the children are provided for.

  • BobW

    Sorry Tony, let me clarify. Yes, she is bringing in two children from a previous marriage and they’re talking about more. Is the state involved in making sure the children receive child support or she receives alimony if there isn’t a civil (legal) aspect to the marriage? I could be talking out of ignorance, but I don’t understand how they could be.

    • Tony Jones

      The state will protect those children based on paternity (and maternity), regardless of whether they are legally married or not.

  • dbalicki

    Let me help you understand why Tony Jones has adopted this position. Tony got married – legally. Why did he do that if he feels now that this sort of thing is “not neccessary?” Now, the more important question: “What caused him to change his mind?” The true answer to this question is – pain. In the majority of divorces, both marriage partners inflict pain upon the other. Forgiveness is not extended. Bitterness grows, resulting in greater pain. A person in pain, when confronted by a percieved threat, will lash out. There’s all kinds of underlying reasons – You hurt me, and so I want you to hurt too, only worse. You don’t understand the extent of the pain you have caused me, so I will do to you, what you have done to me, so that you feel the same extent of the pain too. Wrongs done to the one, justify the other to commit wrong, not only directly, but also indirectly, or in a passive-aggressive way. Etc. Etc. Etc. These wrongs that produce emotional pain (obviously there are instances that also include physical pain), the response is either unforgiveness, committing offsetting wrongs, or direct retaliation – and all are completely justified by the perpetrator. Whatever happened between Tony and his wife that resulted in Tony finding himself a divorced man, has no bearing on what I am about to say. Why did Tony change his mind? The answer is simply this, when Tony got a divorce, his heart was ripped in two (or cut, or trampled on, etc.). There was much emotional pain. Why did Tony change his mind about legal marriage – simple – he wants to avoid that kind of pain again. The truth will be for Tony is that by doing what he has done, he will not be able to avoid experiencing emotional pain again. There is no such thing as a “pain-free” relationship. Sorry.

  • Rob

    This is a very interesting point of view. It’s caused me to think. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Al A

    I can’t find an answer. Can someone help? I am a widower and want to marry a widow my age (68 years old). The government will clean us financially if we legally marry. We’re both Christians. Where (or who) would marry us sacramentally, but not legally?

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