I am a pastor that has performed a lot of marriages. I have also been the theologian who spent a long time looking a marriage Biblically and produced a fifty part series for this blog on marriage. I ended with a lot of conclusions but the one thing I could not find for sure in a Biblical meaning of marriage is that required for Biblical marriage was a marriage license and filing said license with the government. Sorry not there. In Biblical times marriage was a religious and cultural thing and often had nothing to do with government approval. Basically the ancient world folks went to parents, arranged the marriage, had a party and consummated the marriage with sex. After that you were husband and wife or also possibly husband and wife number four. My point is that there was no need for approval from a king or government in the whole process most of the time unless the parent was the king or something.
To those Christians who have turned to government to define marriage, you really don’t have a single Biblical leg to stand on because Bible is written at a time when the idea that the state should be involved in marriage was simply not a concept that existed. In trying to get the government to define marriage purely as one man with one woman you are also kind whistling past the fact that polygamy existed as well as all kinds of marriage types where one’s wife could either be a true wife or just a concubine/handmaiden. The government had nothing to do with that either.
On the flip side I feel the whole homosexual equal marriage rights crowd blew a wonderful opportunity to cripple the opposition because they want their marriages recognized by the state. That opportunity was to basically come out and ask the question: “Why does marriage require government approval?” Perhaps a more blunt and pertinent question would be – “Why is government involved in marriage at all?” Had the homosexual equality movement come in with this angle they would have actually gotten some Christian support from some surprising places like some of the old-time Mormons and there are a surprising number of Christians of the regular stripe that would have gone this route too. I know I have heard them talk. I know personally of a man who lives with two women and they are definitely in a polygamist relationship but very good Christian people. They are also not Mormon but they would have supported this just so they could say go down to a lawyer and draw up a will and other legal documents so both wives were covered in the event of their husband’s death.
The real practical question is this: “By being involved with marriage, What exactly does the government do that helps marriage?” “Is there some benefit to marriage by the government being involved in it?” The thing is the only reason marriage is defined by government is that they can profit from it. Sorry I don’t see a Department of Marriage in the government. What I do see is the government profiting from the issuing of marriage licenses and using marriage to make the tax code more complicated. That’s pretty much it. I mean what does government involvement do for marriage? The answer is pretty much nothing.
Part of the reason perhaps is children and the protection of children. I mean we don’t want ‘minors’ getting married. But this to is pretty much an arbitrary thing and varies state to state as well. I mean why is an eighteen year old a responsible adult but a seventeen year old not a responsible adult becomes a good question as well. The fact is that in our good intentions with teenagers I think we cause a great deal of harm. Now we have teen moms but isn’t part of the problem that the teen mom and the teen dad not really able to get married without parent approval? Seems odd to me that we allow them to be morally responsible to have sex but not morally responsible enough to deal with the consequences of sex. In Jewish culture children are responsible adults at twelve to the Torah and I think this is probably the best course. Under the Torah, to thirteen year olds would be marriage and not have an option for divorce if they were discovered. Talk about something that might have more force in keeping teens from having sex.
Back to the government, can anyone tell me what the government accomplishes by being involved in marriage that is beneficial to marriage itself? To be honest I can’t think of anything they do that could not be much more easily accomplished by a trip to a lawyer and a religious leader if a person is religious. I honestly think if the government wasn’t involved, it might actually be better. Imagine that.
I know that I have left a lot out about the church’s involvement in marriage but that is the subject of next week’s opinion post so stay tuned.