I have long wondered how we got to the point where the state “authorizes” a cleric to perform a marriage. For many, marriage has a religious connotation – for many Christians, it is either sacramental in nature or a sacrament itself. For others, marriage is a contractual relationship between two people. Historically, this was primarily an arrangement designed to facilitate the upbringing of children.
While the proposition of splitting the two entirely has been bandied about recently, I have yet to see a state formally propose such an arrangement. Until now:
This week, the Alabama state Senate passed a bill that would end the practice of licensing marriages in the state, effectively nullifying both major sides of the contentious national debate over government-sanctioned marriage.
Introduced by Sen. Greg Albritton (R-Bay Minette), Senate Bill 377 (SB377) would end state issued marriage licenses, while providing marriage contracts as an alternative. It passed through the Alabama state Senate by a 22-3 margin on May 19.
Why is this important?
SB377 would accomplish two things.
First, it would render void the edicts of federal judges that have overturned state laws defining marriage. The founding generation never envisioned unelected judges issuing ex cathedra pronouncements regarding the definition of social institutions like marriage and the Constitution delegates the federal judiciary no authority to meddle in the issue. Marriage is a realm clearly left to the state and the people..
Second, the bill would get the state government out of defining marriage entirely as well, ending the squabble between factions that seek to harness the power of the state, thereby taking the burden off government officials who may be torn between what is legally required of them and their religious convictions.
The intent or motives behind this bill are a moot point. By removing the state from the equation, no one can force another to accept their marriage, nor can they force another to reject that person’s own beliefs regarding an institution older than government.
“Licenses are used as a way to stop people from doing things,” said Michael Boldin of the Tenth Amendment Center. “My personal relationship should not be subject to government permission.”
Notably, the law still limits such a contract to two persons, and does not allow someone to enter into a subsequent contract while a prior contract is still in place.
Will such an approach succeed in allowing same-sex couples to marry while protecting the ability of religious groups to maintain their definition of marriage? Perhaps the question should be phrased in this manner: Will this proposal satisfy all groups? It’s hard to say that no one will be upset with such a proposal, but if it seriously diminishes the strife created by the question of same-sex marriage, then it would seem to be a positive move.