Church, State and Same-sex Marriage

It’s a bit old now, but I just came across Roger Olson’s proposal to put an end to the same-sex marriage debate. Olson argues that we should

reserve marriage to the churches and other religious organizations…[and] let the government issue civil union licenses to any two people who desire such a relationship which gives them certain privileges in the eyes of the law (e.g., joint property)… [On this arrangement,] each church would decide who they recognize as really married. (Just as they do who is really ordained or really baptized.) A church would not have to recognize as married every couple that has a civil union. And the government would not recognize a church’s marriage as a civil union. The two would be entirely separate–just like church and state are supposed to be.

You can read the rest here.

This two marriages proposal isn’t really new. It’s the position I’ve held for several years now. I first heard it from Tony Campolo when I was in college. And Tony Jones’ related manifesto is now available on kindle.

But here’s my question: Would this proposal, if it won out, really put an end to the same sex marriage debate? That is, would the constituents at either extreme of the spectrum be happy with it? I suspect not, but it’s worth asking the question.

To my conservative friends: Would you be happy to allow the state to give tax breaks any other privileges to whomever would chose to commit to partnership, provided that we agree that what the state is doing is not marriage, but something different all together. If not, why? Especially now that many social conservatives joined also in the fight for a smaller government, why not put our money where our mouth is? Why not take the power of defining marriage away from the government?

To my progressive friends: Does this proposal, which would level the playing field in terms of government privileges, really give everyone a fair shake? If not, why? Especially for my LGBT friends: Do you feel—this is my uneducated theory—that this still leaves unanswered the question of whether the government will sufficiently recognize (honor?) same-sex unions?



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3 responses to “Church, State and Same-sex Marriage

  1. Luke

    This solves the question of “same-sex marriage” by redefining marriage and effectively eliminating it’s practical need. While I don’t necessarily disagree with the idea of eliminating marriage and replacing it with the much more practical idea of civil unions one has to question whether or not the religious among us will ever accept this as a valid answer.

    It also fails to address the somewhat more sentimental concerns of the terminology as well. Would someone be looked down upon if they were “unioned” as opposed to married? Would there be a need to make this distinguishable at all? Could a lesbian couple get civilly joined in a traditional matrimonial ceremony and call themselves “married” even if they were actually just “unioned?”

    The problem with this solution is that it is remarkably unsatisfactory while at the same time offers the exact things requested. There already exists the framework to make this happen you see. Legally and technically I am ordained and able to officiate weddings in my state I am also an atheist and completely non-religious. Non-religious folks can still get this thing you’re referring to as a “civil union” inside of a courthouse with a justice of the peace only it’s still called marriage. Churches or pastors can still refuse to marry someone if they see fit regardless of their sexual preference.

    The point in all of this being that while the above presented solution meets the requirements of gay marriage proponents it’s also a needless additional debate with non-effectual outcomes. The exact same terms and conditions can be met simply by making a constitutional amendment which allows same-sex couples to marry.

    The only difference between “allowing same sex couples to marry” and the above strategy is the accommodationist attitude of redefining marriage as civil unions so as not to offend some religious sentiments. At the risk of being offensive it sounds a lot like the “separate but equal” arguments made during the civil rights movement.

  2. Pingback: Church, State and Same-sex Marriage: A follow up | Theologoholic

  3. Pingback: Pragmatism or Nuance? The Pope on Same-Sex Marriage | Theologoholic

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