Religious Marriage versus Civil Marriage

Good afternoon, I’m switching gears again here late in the day as I begin to wax philosophic on several key points related to the marriage debate that has been clawing up the headlines the last couple of months. I have to say, if the politics of the situation were distract people from the troubling issues of today – this has been a successful campaign.

However, that being said, I like to throw in my two cents. In all likelihood, Sherry may respond to this blog and I’ll look forward to her thoughts on the matter. What I want to discuss right now is not specifically about gay marriage but can be applied to the arguments with regard to gay marriage.

Equality, Reciprocality and Separation of Powers

In this country, there is a distinct and sometimes rather invisible line between what we call religious and civil law. The differences between the two are numerous, however the one I want to focus on for the moment is the fact that moral does not necessarily mean legal and immoral does not necessarily mean illegal.

What do I mean by that? Then let me state that in a Judeo-Christian moral system gambling, drunkenness, gossip and pre-marital sex (to name a few) are immoral. Yet, they are not criminal acts in most places unless the gossip is considered malicious mischief, slander or libel (spoken or written) or the gambling takes place where it is not licensed. (Of course, you can host a private poker game in your own home).

At the same time, driving in excess of the speed limit, littering and crossing the border illegally are not inherently immoral acts. So – you have two laws that most individuals adhere to – what we call God’s Law (or Divine Law) and Civil law.

While some acts are wrong by both divine law and civil law (murder, for example), there is no direct connection between divine law and civil law. Even countries that employ religious law and religious police have civil laws and make the distinction. So what the heck does all this have to do with marriage? We’re getting there.

John Locke is a philosopher upon whom many of our Founding Fathers in the United States based many of the civil liberties that we hold so dear. He described that there were three kinds of law that we refer our actions to: divine law, civil law and the law of reputation or opinion.

Of Divine Law, Locke wrote, “men judge whether their actions are sins or duties”; of Civil Law, “whether they be criminal or innocent”; of the Law of Opinion, “whether they be virtues or vices.”

The Contract of Law

What this means, ultimately, is that while gay marriage may violate Divine Law, preventing it violates the Civil law guaranteeing equality and equal rights and the law of public opinion is as varied as can be imagined when religious and civil law disagree. To that end, there is another fine distinction to be made – we equate religious marriage with civil marriage in this country and while a license to marry is required whether the ceremony is a civil one at a drive up Elvis window in Vegas or an elaborate and very contemplative religious ceremony held in a Church – they are not one and the same.

Religious marriage requires very certain moral duties and meanings. The vows are very clear; the definitions of a wife and a husband and their contract or compact are clearly defined in religious texts and doctrines. Civil unions, however, are not governed by religious doctrine, faith or belief – they are governed by State institutions and offer specific legal benefits for the parties entering into the contract.

I have tried to locate the following, but have not found in any religious text specific references to judicial protections and evidentiary immunity or medical decisions and status as next of kind for hospital visits. Civil law very specifically provides for these issues as it does for survivor benefits.

While we have incorporated these contractual benefits into civil unions and thus into religious unions, there is a feeling that we need to equate religious marriage and civil marriage. In this case, they may be equal – but they are very definitely separate.

No person of any religion is required by law to get a marriage license or fill out a civil union marriage certificate in order to be married in a Church, Synagogue or other holy ceremony. They are only required to do this in order to receive the benefits of Civil Law. Yet, we would deny others access to these same civil law protections and benefits because they are ‘immoral’ or do not meet the same religious standards.

The line between the two is exceptionally distinguishable and the last time I checked – I do not believe the Divine needed politicians to help out enforcing divine law. To reject one class of people as having the same access to civil liberties, civil law and civil protection in favor of another may seem moral to some, but it is technically against our civil law.

Thanks for your time and your patience – hopping off the soapbox now and getting back to this business of marriage!

Related Articles:

Miscegenation is Not Against the law

Is It News? Trailblazers Separate in Massachusetts

Senate Votes & Marriage

Legislating Marriage

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About Heather Long

Heather Long is 35 years old and currently lives in Wylie, Texas. She has been a freelance writer for six years. Her husband and she met while working together at America Online over ten years ago. They have a beautiful daughter who just turned five years old. She is learning to read and preparing for kindergarten in the fall. An author of more than 300 articles and 500+ web copy pieces, Heather has also written three books as a ghostwriter. Empty Canoe Publishing accepted a novel of her own. A former horse breeder, Heather used to get most of her exercise outside. In late 2004, early 2005 Heather started studying fitness full time in order to get herself back into shape. Heather worked with a personal trainer for six months and works out regularly. She enjoys shaking up her routine and checking out new exercises. Her current favorites are the treadmill (she walks up to 90 minutes daily) and doing yoga for stretching. She also performs strength training two to three times a week. Her goals include performing in a marathon such as the Walk for Breast Cancer Awareness or Team in Training for Lymphoma research. She enjoys sharing her knowledge and experience through the fitness and marriage blogs.