Today the State of New York voted to legalise same sex marriage, and advocates of same sex marriage in Australia are calling on Prime Minister Gillard to follow suit. Here are six thoughts on marriage that I’ve posted to Twitter today:
1. Historically, the institution of marriage precedes both the state and the church, and both have sought to co-opt it to their advantage.
2. Faith communities preserve social traditions that deliver security and stability to a community and facilitate human flourishing.
3. Faith communities have a legitimate interest in ensuring that such social traditions are reflected in civil law.
4. The state may make laws that either affirm or deny a faith community’s convictions about marriage and family.
5. The state may not compel a faith community to act contrary to its convictions about marriage and family.
6. Part of the problem we face today is that many Christians wrongly assume that the state exists to serve the church and its interests; and many secularists wrongly assume that the church ought to have no influence on matters of law and policy.
My personal view is that it may be preferable to formally separate the legal and religious aspects of marriage, as is already done in many countries. This would help to reduce the constant war of words between those for and against same sex marriage (in which neither side will back down), and it would allow Christians and others whose religious faith shapes their understanding of marriage to emphasise those values in a ceremony in which the state does not intrude.