Tuesday, July 05, 2005

A Frightening Thought

A couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of performing a marriage. I will have that pleasure again in about 8 weeks. So why am I sad?

The simple answer is that these may be the last two weddings I perform in my life.

No, I am not dying, nor am I leaving the ministry. But I may be abandoning marriage as a legal institution.

This week a parishioner asked me directly if I would ever officiate a same sex-marriage ceremony. I said, equally directly, that no I never would. The Law may have a different view.

It is my hope that denominations would free themselves from any possibility of prosecution or persecution by simply getting out of the marriage business. The arrangement that denominations have with provinces regarding the registration of marriages that ministers solemnize is, to the best of my understanding, a voluntary one. That is, there is no legal requirement that ministers serve as agents of the state in performing a marriage ceremony. My thought is that ministers could continue to perform marriages "in the sight of God" that would be recognized by the churches. Couples would be therefore married in the eyes of God, if not that of the state.

But this week the thought crossed my mind that we ministers may not be permitted to disentangle ourselves so easily. It occurred to me that some might try to accuse ministers of an illegal activity. I know that this probably sounds alarmist, but hear me out. The federal and provincial governments have, with the passage of this Bill and existing jurisprudence, established that they alone have the right to define marriage, and have exclusive control over its solemnization. With that in mind, and assuming that churches do indeed get out of the "marriage business," I ask: If a minister performs a ceremony of marriage, calling it such, would that minister be guilty of performing an unauthorized service?

In a prior post I had said that the government ought have no more say over a marriage performed purely as a matter of religious observance than it does over baptism. Yet the state does claim exclusive right to control marriage. It makes no such claim to baptism.

So what will happen? I don't know. I am no lawyer. Nor am I prophet. But I am sad.

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