Getting out of the civil ‘marriage’ business

I remember Iain Benson calling for this way back when Canada was debating changing the definition of marriage.

Now in the United States, there are calls for church leaders to stop officiating for the government.  I hope this catches on.  From R. R. Reno at First Things.

I can’t see how a priest or pastor can in good conscience sign a marriage license for “Spouse A” and “Spouse B.” Perhaps he should strike those absurdities and write “Husband” and “Wife.” Failing that he should simply refuse the government’s delegation of legal power, referring the couple to the courthouse after the wedding for the state to confect in its bureaucratic way the amorphous and ill-defined civil union that our regime continues to call “marriage.”

Getting out of the government marriage business is exactly what Ephraim Radner and Christopher Seitz now urge. They’ve formulated a pastoral pledge. It requires ordained ministers to renounce their long-established role as agents of the state with the legal power to sign marriage certificates.

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2 Responses to Getting out of the civil ‘marriage’ business

  1. richardchonak says:

    The idea is well meant, but not well thought out. Canon law professor Ed Peters has taken it apart on his blog at

    First of all, when a priest signs a marriage license, it is a statement about the wedding which took place before him, not an endorsement of some same-sex ceremony across town: therefore there is no wrongdoing in signing the license. Furthermore, if it were wrong for clergy to participate in the civil marriage system, it would also be immoral for lay people to get marriage licenses. In addition, abandoning civil marriage to the secularists to redefine further as they will would be irresponsible on the part of Christians.

    • Rev22:17 says:


      I’m glad that you found this site, and I hope that you will continue to contribute!

      You wrote: In addition, abandoning civil marriage to the secularists to redefine further as they will would be irresponsible on the part of Christians.

      Yes, I think that you are absolutely correct about this!

      In many countries, at least in Europe, the secular law does not recognize religious weddings at all and thus requires a separate exchange of vows before an official of the state — but that is imposed by the secular government rather than by the church.

      But having said that, Christian ministers ought not be in the business of performing purely secular weddings. If a couple does not intend a Christian marriage, understood to include all of the essential elements of the sacrament, the pretense of Christian marriage is a sham. This means that (1) the pastor, moderator, or rector of a Christian church should not allow the celebration of the wedding therein and (2) Christian ministers should neither participate in the ceremony nor confer a blessing upon the union.


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