The past thirty years or so have presented Americans with challenges that the World War II generation could never have imagined, much less planned for. Technology has advanced at a breakneck pace, putting our institutions in catch-up mode trying to deal with unheard-of possibilities. Our moral foundations have eroded as so many of our people fall away from our churches; and as so many of our churches lose sight of the scriptures which they are supposed to be preaching. As bizarre ideas of morality proliferate, we are called upon to extend our tolerance to those new teachings that fall farther and farther outside the bounds of convention.
One of the most difficult situations we will have to deal with in the next few years will be the increasing demand by non-traditional couples to have their unions recognized as marriages. Two recent news stories illustrate the problems we will soon be facing.
According to the Richmond, Virginia Times-Dispatch of June 23, 1999, a Wiccan priestess was refused court permission to legally marry couples who belong to her coven. Legal practices on the issue vary from county to county in Virginia, and from state to state. If you think that’s a one-of-a-kind occurrence, consider this: the US military recognizes Wicca as a religion, and provides a chaplain to serve the coven at Fort Hood. There are bound to be more Wiccan couples wanting to be legally married in their own “church.” Meanwhile, this particular witch has been talking with the ACLU and considering appealing the decision.
The Vermont Supreme Court is currently considering the case of a male homosexual couple who wish to marry in that state. If such marriages aren’t allowed in Vermont, sooner or later they will be in some other state. If they aren’t sanctioned by your or my church, they are even now in some others.
The problems with legalizing these “unconventional” marriages should be immediately obvious. Government sanction of the marriages would imply that we as a people honor them as true marriages. Some of us do, but most of us don’t. There are also all kinds of tax and other “benefits” available for legally married couples. People shouldn’t be forced to support, morally or financially, something that may be repugnant to them.
Congress’ response to the same-sex marriage issue was to pass the Defense of Marriage Act, which withheld federal recognition of such matches and allowed states to withhold recognition of those who had been married in other states. This approach reminds me of the little boy with his finger in the dike holding back the flood waters. In real life it is doomed to failure. That is so both because there are too many possible kinds of unconventional marriages to legislate against them all; and because it just isn’t right for government to judge the legitimacy of religious ceremonies. The American people will eventually realize this, and the floodgates will open.
How can we accommodate the diverse concepts of marriage without giving our government’s sanction to all of them? I think it’s time to remove government from the whole business of blessing marriages. Marriage and family rest on the foundation of religion, and require God’s blessing. They don’t need and shouldn’t have the sanction and financial support of government. We should consider doing away with the idea of government-issued marriage licenses, and with all special tax treatment of married couples. If some group wants to call itself a religion and hold wedding ceremonies for its members, what business is it of ours if we aren’t forced to recognize the marriage or to support it with our tax dollars?