Sacred Canopy?

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chuppa.jpgAndrew Sullivan rightly corrects Camille Paglia for claiming that marriage is a religious concept that should be left in the hands of religious institutions while the state should concern itself solely with civil unions and the legal rights appertaining thereunto. (The truth is that marriage was always the business of the civil order; the religious dimension was johnny-come-lately.) Sullivan ends his post by lamenting the inability of Americans to accept a “simple rule of civil marriage for all; religious marriage for all who want to supplement it with God’s grace”:

Why is that so hard for some people of faith to grasp? Why are their marriages defined not by the virtues they sustain but the people they exclude?

The answer is that, like prayer in public school, displays of the Ten Commandments on public land and in government buildings, and retention of “Under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance, the impulse to restrict marriage to one man and one woman draws on a certain popular desire to have civil society operate under a sacred canopy. So the fact that most religious bodies do not recognize same-sex marriage seems to many of their members dispositive. Even as they recognize that the institution can be purely civil (hey, justice of the peace!), they, like Paglia, accept its sacralization as a given.

  • Asinus Gravis

    Sullivan may well be correct about Massachussetts in the early 1600s. The practice in colonial Virginia was different. There to be legally married one had to be married by an Anglican priest. Other religious churches and groups, performed services that recognized and honored the decision of non-Anglicans to live together as if man and wife.
    I would prefer a system in this country where the state is in the business of civil unions and the religious institutions are in the marriage business. Couples, of whatever sexual configuration, should be able to choose either or both civil unions or marriges–with the proviso that all the legal rights and requirements are tied to the civil unions.
    That should satisfy the churches and religious groups who seem primarily interested in owning the word “marriage.”