Christian Marriage vs. State Marriage

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Lew suggests it is time to privatize marriage, which for many people would mean the “churchization” of marriage. This is one of the few issues on which I’ve held a radical libertarian position since a young age due to the following provocative passage from Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis:

“Before leaving the question of divorce, I should like to distinguish two things which are very often confused. The Christian conception of marriage is one: the other is the quite different question – how far Christians, if they are voters or Members of Parliament, ought to try to force their views of marriage on the rest of the community by embodying them in the divorce laws. A great many people seem to think that if you are a Christian yourself you should try to make divorce difficult for every one. I do not think that. At least I know I should be very angry if the Mohammedans tried to prevent the rest of us from drinking wine. My own view is that the Churches should frankly recognize that the majority of the British people are not Christians and, therefore, cannot be expected to live Christian lives. There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.” -Book III, Ch. 6, p. 87. [emphasis mine]

Even as a young teenager I recognized that Lewis’ argument suggested that the State really had no role in defining marriage at all. This led me to a rather unusual perspective for a young conservative evangelical which I still have. Though I share most Christians’ concern for couples who move in together frivolously, I believe there is nothing wrong with non-Christian couples who live together, have children together, are committed to each other and are otherwise clearly married in all but the legal sense. If the State has no proper role, what does it matter whether they go to the Justice of the Peace or not?

After all, when marriage is established in the Torah there’s no mention of marriage licenses or even of a ceremony: “For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and they will become one flesh.” -Genesis 2:24

8:56 pm on June 20, 2003
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