There Are Two Marriages – Part Three

There Are Two Marriages – Part Three September 7, 2011

The Government’s Interest in Marriage

The State of Minnesota, or any state for that matter, doesn’t care if a married couple has sex, doesn’t have sex, or has sex with partners outside of the spousal relationship.  When Anna Nicole Smith married octogenarian billionaire J. Howard Marshall, the State of Texas did not care if they ever had intercourse.  They were two mentally competent adults who, though 62 years apart in age, were allowed to marry with no questions asked.

As a society, we have decided that the government should stay out of the bedroom.  Scarlet letters are no longer stitched to the blouses of adulteresses, and virtually all laws against adultery have been repealed or long-since ignored.  Whether a couple consummates their marriage is of no interest to the state — if it were, there would be follow-ups to the issuance of a marriage license — just like you’ve got to pass an eye exam to get your driver’s license renewed every few years, married couple would have to check in with the state and show off their children, or otherwise prove that they were having intercourse.

But until that day comes, the state is compelled to grant a marriage license to any (opposite gendered) couple who applies, no questions asked.  We seem to believe that monogamy is best, with or without the presence of children, and as such, we both license it and incentivize it with myriad tax breaks and laws.  We want people to be monogamous.

It’s for this reason that I argue for Christians of all stripes to support legal same sex marriage.  This has nothing to do with sex, and nothing to do with sacramental marriage (see the next post for thoughts about that).  Legal marriage is about two adults entering into a legally-binding contract and thereby being rewarded with as many as 515 benefits in the law.  Even conservative Christians, who oppose gay sexual intimacy, should favor same sex marriage.

Look at it this way: conservative Christians surely didn’t want me to get divorced; they may even think that, as Jesus said, my remarriage constitutes adultery.  But, all things considered, I’d guess that they’d rather have me remarried and monogamous, for my own sake and for my kids’ sake, than to be non-monogamous.  In short, divorce is a reality, so remarriage is the lesser of two evils.

I’m asking conservative Christians to look at same sex marriage the same way: gays and lesbians are partnering, and they are increasingly raising children.  Regardless of whether you think gay sex is God’s ideal, it is happening.  So let’s incentivize monogamy among gay and bisexual persons the same way that we do among straight persons.

See all the posts in this series here.

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  • I agree, though I’m not sure Anna Nicole Smith was mentally competent when she married that billionaire. Her agent certainly was.

  • Aaron

    Unbelievable that you call yourself a Christian. You should be ashamed that you would want to legalize a sin that is so destructive with no ability to pass anything on but disease. If you’re a Christian, I hope and pray that you will repent of this sin.

  • Emeth

    Tony, I’m loving these thoughts. Keep ’em coming!

  • Basil Kiwan


    Please keep writing and ignore the ignorant, idiotic crackpots like Aaron, who have no understanding of either civil law, or scripture!

    • Elliott

      Basil, how exactly have you witnessed to Aaron or anyone for that matter with your comment? Do you not pity the weaker brother? Or did Christ extend his grace to you because you were not “ignorant” “idiotic” or a “crackpot” when He found you? Aaron may lack understanding, but “you have no excuse, O man, every one of you who judges. For in passing judgment on another you condemn yourself, because you practice the very same things.” I exhort you, brother, to publicly repent of the damage you have done to Christ’s gospel.

  • 1) If a partner within the marriage is proven to have had an adulterous affair, then it can count against them in divorce proceedings.

    2) If you marry someone from another country then the INS will ask you questions about your bedroom. They can ask you questions about what side of the bed you sleep on, or what kind of intimate wear your spouse wears.

    The movement if GLBT, or LGBT, you are leaving out bisexual and transgender issues out of your reasoning.

    • CJ

      Your first example is about determining whether there has been a breach of the marriage contract. Your second is about determining whether two people are using legal marriage to subvert immigration laws. Neither has anything to do with who can get a marriage license or for what reason.

      If you’re wondering why I’m picking on you it’s because you are the only person I see promoting your view civilly. It’s refreshing and I commend you.

      The utter lack of civility from many of the groups supporting this and other issues important to Christian conservatives is what made me begin to question my own positions. The behavior failed the standards of love established by Christ. And by that same standard I felt compelled to shift my position because I couldn’t find any justification for causing harm to people who have no legal obligation to share my personal religious convictions. That is why I agree with Dr. Jones, specifically on his current point that Christians should support legal same-sex marriage regardless of whether they support sacramental same-sex marriage.

    • Lock, you are incorrect about 1). No Fault Divorce is law in all 50 states.

      You may be correct about 2).

      • Granted there are various attitudes when debating this subject. I have ran into homosexual in every Christian tradition that I have encounters. Essentially what is currently being asked is to go from a negative perspective on divergent relationships other than Husband and Wife to a positive perspective on sex issues. The issue is not Gay and Lesbian. It is GLBT. Transgender is tampering with your genitals. so sex is front and center (pardon the pun). And since we are all for equality we need to arrange the acronym TBGL. Argue for Transgender first.
        The argue isn’t about loving people and accepting.

  • ThinkingKentuckian

    First, let me say my name is not an oxymoron! As a woman who was raised in a relatively conservative Baptist family whose church attendance was sporadic and church involvement was non-existent due to overriding relational issues in the family, I found myself searching spiritually at a very young age. Despite few influences other than those already mentioned, my life circumstances and personality characteristics have provoked lots of thinking on issues relating to marriage. Tony, your blogs are most helpful to me at this time as I am in the process of divorce. It goes without saying that divorce is viewed by Baptists in general as an unforgivable sin. It apparently is okay for a husband to dispense years of abuse and ridicule, but not for a wife to say enough is enough. As I find myself searching for a new community, I am rethinking long-held paradigms. The bottom line is this: God loves me and KNOW that I am not perfect, yet He loves me in spite of this. Unfortunately most of my friends and my former church apparently have higher standards than God. Part of my journey recently has been to experience non-judgmental platonic love which has enabled me to view others from that same perspective. I have long been in agreement that same-sex ‘civil unions’ are beneficial arrangements and should be allowed, but my current situation has helped me to see this in a new light. I can only hope that people in my small town will eventually see how closed-minded they are and open themselves fully to the expanse of God’s grace and love. Thank you, Tony!

    • Charles

      “I am rethinking long-held paradigms.” Good for you! My wife and have experienced that as well. We moved from conservative Christian to a theology that is far more benevolent and accepting. The knot in my stomach has disappeared. Keep at it, and don’t look back!

      • ThinkingKentuckian

        Thanks for the encouraging words, Charles. The knot in my stomach has disappeared, too, but I still have a very long, battlefield/road ahead of me.

  • Jay

    Get the government out of marriage. Let marriage be a cultural and religious matter. Let legal contracts between two or more persons be the businesses of governments. That should keep things a bit more clear.

  • Catherine

    My own feminist 2 cents…

    In the case of a non-legalized marriage (as your own), and in the event of a divorce (50% rate for 1st marriage, 75% rate for 2nd marriage), the poorest partner (80% are women, here in Canada at least) is left with no legal or financial protection. Should one of the partners choose to put one’s career on hold for childbearing or child rearing, that partner suffers financial loss and a career setback…When divorce comes, the housdehold assets are normally in the name of the working spouse ans the poorest spouse (again 80 % female) is left out in the cold with kids , no house or savings…

    I am afraid this becomes a trend for men to avoid legal and financial responsability.

    I might be wrong but if I am, please explain the possible benefits poorest spouses (namely, the wives)

    Love your blog and congrats on your wedding (greats pics by the way!)
    Cathherine in Canada

    • Jason

      Tony, I agree with the questions Catherine has raised above. How would one prevent such abuse from happening in non-legal Christian marriage? I suppose the Church would have to take very seriously “binding and loosing” (in the way Yoder defines it in Body Politics) but this might return us to the days of scarlet letters; not to mention the fact that particular churches cannot require payment of alimony or require fair distribution of assets so even if a church does discipline a husband who simply leaves his family, he could simply leave the church and move on.

  • Paul Jones

    Tony I agree with your arguments about the legal side of marriage and that gays and lesbian should be able to be married legally if just base on the legal side of the argument. I know that your are not done with your argument and you are just beginning so save my whole conclusion for later. I do not think for conservative christian (which I am one) have the problem with legal aspect of gay and lesbian marriage but with the way God views it and its sacramental aspect. If the legal issue was the only thing then I would say let the people get married just like I think immigrants should be allowed into our country. Looking forward to the rest of the blogs.

  • Paul Jones

    Aaron please grow up and have an adult conversation. Do not fall into the trap of believing you are the only that has the market on the Gospel. This is a serious issue and whether one agrees or disagrees one should be open to discussion.

  • Lorelie Jorheim

    I’m enjoying this series. Thank you for them.

  • KimG


    I agree that the government has no place in deciding legal union based on gender preferences. However, I do see a rather significant difference between same sex and hetero union. One union is potentially life generating and one is not. I think that matters.

    There should be two different words for describing those types of unions just as we have different for words for all sorts of similar but ultimately different processes. Let’s grant legality and even holiness to human unions but differentiate in how we describe them.

    • Charles

      KimG, You are describing ‘separate but equal,’ which has been ruled unconstitutional – complicated isn’t it.

    • Emily

      So are you saying that because I had a hysterectomy and thus unable to give birth, I should be unable to get “married?” Because that is the problem with your differentiation. Also, as Charles pointed out, separate but equal is unconstitutional.

    • My husband and I might be gay, but we’re still both the parents of our children. Is our family less worthy of marriage because we adopted vs. biologically reared our kids?

  • I’d rather use a radical Christian ethics to undermine the heteronormative–and reproductive futurist–impulse which mistakenly encourages us to try to incentivize monogamy through government. Monogamy is great for those of us who are called to it, but a Church which embraces LGBTQ persons should recognize there are no one-size-fits-all solutions.

  • Pingback: Elsewhere (09.09.2011) | Near Emmaus()

  • Aaron

    Hes not your husband and you aren’t married. Just because the government agrees that something is legal doesn’t mean its moral. What’s unfortunate here is that sin is being accepted as morality and morality is being treated as sin.

    • I’m assuming you are talking to me since I talked about my own family a couple posts above this one. We were wed in the church back in 1997 and then legally wed in 2009. We are married, whether you believe it or agree with it or not.

  • My biggest point on this topic, which I constantly share with conservative Christians is this….

    What if two elderly sisters/close friends, even call them Conservative Christians if it helps, move in with each other for financial reasons late in life; for all practical purposes they could be widows or not. They are co-dependent as much as any marriage, frequently, and are most likely NOT in a sexual context! However, it might be a financial or other advantage for them to have a “civil” marriage.

    What bothers me is people making the assumption that the only people who would benefit would be those having homosexual relations. I see a benefit for others, and I believe that it should be something on the governmental side that does not discriminate on the circumstances – an easy way to have the proper person being the one with rights to see you in the hospital etc., even if sex is not involved. At All. Can we take it out of the equation? And for this not to be entered lightly, keep the difficulties of civil divorce the same as well, so that there is a financial cost/expense/trouble to reversing it, and no one will jump for civil marriage that doesn’t see the long term commitment.

  • Don Johnson

    I do think the state should get out of the marriage (defining) business. Let them give civil unions for those that want this and let a church allow marriage for those they think should.

    You may not be aware that you are taking Jesus out of context in your claim of what he said, but many many others do so also. If you want to investigate, see David Instone-Brewer’s website

  • JackKerras

    Preface: I’m an American atheist.

    I honestly think that the problem here revolves around the fact that marriage, as an institution, has both a spiritual and a legislative iteration. I could get married in the eyes of the law and have nothing to do with God, as I’m an atheist and have no interest in God whatsoever.

    If marriage in the Church were called ‘marriage’, and marriage in the State were called ‘union’, then we’d have two different institutions. Same-sex marriage would be an issue for the Church, and same-sex union in the State (read: the one that comes with equal rights for all) would be an issue for the State.

    With no religious charge whatsoever, same-sex ‘union’, as I have described it, would be the very definition of a no-brainer.

    The fact that both are called ‘marriage’ muddies the waters. The Bible apparently tells most folks who read it that being gay is bad, and because Church marriage and State marriage share a name (despite being totally separate institutions), adherents to said Church get up in arms about religious freedom when people try to marry other people with whom they are in love.

    It has nothing at all to do with religious freedom.

    Frankly, I think that the Church just deciding what’s okay and what’s not based on a set of rules which are suspiciously effective for holding a bronze-age patriarchy together is slightly insane right out of the gate. What gives said Church the right, I do not understand for the life of me. But if they want their club to be no-gays, you know what? It’s their club. They can do what they want.

    The government is not their club. It is decidedly, legally, necessarily separate from their club. The Church’s ideology deciding that the State institution of marriage excludes gays for religious reasons is just plain not right, not to mention being counter to some of the most important principles America was founded on.

    American colonists pretty much emigrated from Britain specifically because King George was tromping around on their religious freedom, but that was back when there was no separation of Church and State. That’s why separation of Church and State is a founding principle of our government.

    That’s why this whole same-sex marriage fiasco is a colossal, ongoing farce that level heads should have solved decades ago.