Case for Christians to Opt Out of State Marriage

Every now and then I will tell the story of my experience getting a marriage license. Me and my soon to be wife sit at the clerks desk filling out the paperwork and showing ID like any other perspective couple. I looked down at this piece of paper and start looking forward to attending the Temple for sealing. Like so many others before me, I am excited and nervous about the big day. I love my wife and she loves me. Then it hits me while putting signature to paper. My marriage is between me and my wife, my God, and my Church. Why do I need permission from the State? Its none of their business.

Yes, there are some tax related issues and a few other laws associated with State acceptance. Because I consider myself a law abiding citizen and it is a traditional requirement, the papers are put in order. Aside from that, my bride might have taken it the wrong way and the LDS Church would not allow the sealing to take place. From that time on my views of State and Marriage would be out of the ordinary.

If it is true as some say that traditional marriage defenders are “on the wrong side of history,” then perhaps a new approach should be considered. Most of the arguments for traditional marriage are based on religious belief that a man and a woman is the only legitimate definition of marriage. It is not simply signing papers for creating a small business transaction. It is a Holy Sacrament ordained by God. With that in mind, there really isn’t a reason religious conservative Christians should get married in the usually expected manner.

Living together isn’t what it used to be. To be more accurate, it isn’t looked down on like it used to be. All the social reasons for avoiding such an arrangement has been reduced in many communities. The major reason people get married by the State is tradition and taxation. Even getting married for taxation purposes has both up and down sides that depend on who earns what and how much. Separate filing might end up costing less than joint filing. A good legal document can take care of other issues, such as visitation or power of attorney. Joint banking doesn’t even require State marriage.

Another reason to get married is for creating a family with children. There doesn’t have to be a marriage for this to happen. State law recognizes the parentage of mother and father regardless of a State marriage certificate. The father only has to prove they are providing for the offspring. It might even be possible, but perhaps not advisable, to claim single parent benefits. Of course, only one parent should be chosen for that position to avoid tax fraud. Common law marriage laws might also come into play.

The reason conservative Christians should consider opting out of State marriage recognition is they are giving the State too much defining power. Since many religious people do not and cannot accept anything more than one man and one woman unions as marriage, and the State is quickly going another direction, then the State needs to be treated as illegitimate. Opponents of this and supporters for redefining marriage might ask, you lose and so picking up the ball and going home? Yes, indeed. That is the American way of protest. In fact, not getting State married as a sign of protest is actually legal compared to the old draft dodging days for those who didn’t want to participate in war. All they need is a religious authority to proclaim the nuptials, with them signing a piece of paper for community (if not legal) recognition.

Married people are currentlyless than a majority in the United States. Those who do get married are often more educated and well to do or the conservative religious. Drop the latter and it might drop to less than a quarter of households. The point is that those who can only support same-sex couples as marriage will have the power to do just that. Who really other than the government is going to question how you got married if you put a ring on it? Any other kind of win for State recognition will be a Pyrrhic victory. Since the State will no longer accept the traditional definition of marriage, then State marriage will no longer be the definition of marriage among conservative Christians (and any others who agree with them). It might not have the power of the State, but it does have the power of conviction.

Of course, this isn’t that easy with Mormonism. Like was stated at the top, the LDS Church authorities are very careful to do everything within a legal framework. Going to the Temple without a State certificate isn’t going to be allowed. Too much history of persecution by the federal government makes it skittish to protests. What it does have going for it is the very private and nonpublic Temple activities. With New York not passing the religious exemption and Christian cake makers getting sued as examples, there might come a day when Churches are forced to perform other than same-sex marriages. As with the examples, a person might sue using the anti-discrimination for public place laws. It might sound far fetched, but in today’s legal world who knows the outcome? Since Temples are unambiguously private (not even visitors welcome) then there will be no way other than the unlikely decisions of LDS Leadership that other than same-sex couple weddings will take place. Other churches might have to follow that example. Marriage could some day for Christians become completely private.

39 thoughts on “Case for Christians to Opt Out of State Marriage

  1. One very simple option is simply to do in the US what the Church already does in countries which don’t recognize a temple sealing as constituting a legal marriage. Have couples get married in a civil ceremony, and then go across town (or country, or region) to the temple and get sealed. Equating a civil marriage with an eternal sealing isn’t necessary. It might even make church member think a little bit more about how serious a sealing is and how different it is from *just* a marriage ceremony.

    This has the advantage of getting the Church out of the marriage business entirely – then there is nothing for a non-member to try to force the Church to do.

    And a clarification – it is not that the state wouldn’t recognize a traditional marriage, it is simply that it is expanding the categories it would recognize. A traditional heterosexual marriage would still be recognized and have all of the legal rights it ever had.

  2. “The reason conservative Christians should consider opting out of State marriage recognition is they are giving the State too much defining power. Since many religious people do not and cannot accept anything more than one man and one woman unions as marriage, and the State is quickly going another direction, then the State needs to be treated as illegitimate.”

    Agreed with the sentiment, Jettboy. Not sure if it can be done, but I see where you are coming from.

  3. So what do you propose to do about covenants made in the temple? One of those covenants states that the government does indeed have something to do with at least one aspect of your marriage.

    Maybe you should start a petition to change the wording of the temple ceremony to fit your political views.

  4. Katy, if it doesn’t go against Temple covenants to state, what aspect does it say the government has? Even it if does say as much (although I can’t say what yet because nothing comes to mind), the revelations about sealing do not. The words could, as has happened in the past, be changed and have no religious difference. In fact, I would even say that even with the (supposed) words the government holds no religious authority and therefore can be ignored.

  5. I’m with you on the opt out. However, our church leaders don’t see it that way — yet. It used to be that illegitimates had very little property or inheritance rights, hence the need to marry. We came to see that position as unfair, hence laws were changed to put the illegitimate on the same footing as the legitimate. Once that social stigma was knocked out, things have gone downhill for traditional marriage. Katy — If we do one day opt out of state marriage, I am sure language in the temple as well as priesthood performed ceremonies would change, too. I predict within 10 years we’ll have marriage defined as any two or more people who contract to combine their resources and means for their support. That would allow SSM as well as polygnous and polyandrous combinations to exist. But until it gets to that point I’ll continue to sustain my leaders’ attempts to salvage traditional marriage.

  6. FWIW – the only good thing to come with the latest decision will be the direct opportunity for the S.Ct. to address the states’ ability to define marriage once and for all. I would rather get the issue resolved instead if this vague state of confusion that exists today.

  7. @Katy

    If you are referring to those being legally and lawfully wedded, legally and lawfully does not mean the laws of the land. It refers to God’s laws. Even if a same sex couple is married legally according to the laws of the civil government, they will still be in violation of God’s laws and thus not legally married (in regards to temple covenant considerations).

  8. I was referring to the “no sexual relationships….unless LEGALLY and LAWFULLY married” covenant.
    My comment, of course, had nothing to do with gay marriage in any way–just your proposed solution of ignoring government.
    And since you can’t see how I said it, please know my comment was intended to be much more silly than serious.

    And yes, certainly the language could be changed if circumstances demanded–and/or God wanted– it to be.

  9. Katy, or it could just be interpreted (as I do) like john suggests and therefore no need to change the wording. Legal doesn’t necessarily mean secular government. It can mean accepted by the proper religious authorities, like lawfully means following the correct religious rules.

  10. Given that Massachusetts held sometime ago that private parties administering state benefits (to wit: adoption of children in state custody) cannot discriminate against gay people, t will be interesting to see how–or if–the courts justify private ministers administering the state benefit of marriage, discriminating against gay people.

    Methinks the end result to all this is that the traditionalist churches that up to now have been the most devoted to having their congregants enter into state-recognized marriages, will soon be the only churches no longer permitted to solemnize such marriages.

  11. Oaks seems much more optimistic about our ability to live within legal systems that may not be set up exactly the way we would have chosen. I agree with the ZD’s analysis that Oaks sounds grim here but ultimately this is a nice argument for why we are largely unaffected by what is happening with same-sex marriage. From the most recent conference:

    Our twelfth article of faith states our belief in being subject to civil authority and “in obeying, honoring, and sustaining the law.” But man’s laws cannot make moral what God has declared immoral. Commitment to our highest priority—to love and serve God—requires that we look to His law for our standard of behavior. For example, we remain under divine command not to commit adultery or fornication even when those acts are no longer crimes under the laws of the states or countries where we reside. Similarly, laws legalizing so-called “same-sex marriage” do not change God’s law of marriage or His commandments and our standards concerning it. We remain under covenant to love God and keep His commandments and to refrain from serving other gods and priorities—even those becoming popular in our particular time and place.

  12. Jettboy, the fact that your argument has so much resonance here, makes me wonder what all the fuss about same-sex marriage was about. If you think the state’s role in marriage is so non-important, something you and millions of other religious people can simply abandon in favor of private-non state sanctioned ceremony, why did you work so bitterly to oppose state-sponsered same-sex marriage? This sounds deeply hypocritical to me.

  13. “but ultimately this is a nice argument for why we are largely unaffected by what is happening with same-sex marriage.”

    I don’t buy the baloney that we’re “unaffected” by gay marriage. The normalization of behavior that heretofore didn’t exist or was morally repugnant has profound effects on society, from the education of our children to how behaviors become de-stigmatized.

    Now it may be that because we live in an inherently free society that we have to let said society continue to commit spiritual suicide. That’s an argument I can “live with”, because that’s precisely what is happening. The continued breakdown of family norms — contributed to by heterosexuals and homosexuals — will bring to pass the Family Proclamation’s sobering prophecy.

  14. The best option is the libertarian one: government get out of the marriage business entirely, and allow people to establish their own relationships (which technically they already do, except for those wanting a marriage).

    I keep thinking of Sodom and Gomorrah. They weren’t destroyed because of homosexuality, but because the homosexuals chose to impose their sinful lifestyle on the righteous. As government expands its control and promotes the gay agenda more and more, you will see the rights of religious people taken away.

  15. Nate – the ACLU is involved in litigation in Ocala, FL where students at a middle school are seeking to form a gay – straight club. I do not believe for one minute middle schoolers just suddenly woke up and thought that would be a good idea. Apparently children just entering puberty do know their sexual orientation after all. Every time someone says “SSM hasn’t affected my own heterosexual marriage” I want to disagree. Legalizing immoral behavior will have trickle down effects on society as a whole. I think that is the big picture, seeing the forest for the trees, that our church leaders have worried about. It’s quite obvious, from the cheers shouted across the bloggernacle, who believes church leaders, and who reverts to “they’re just a bunch of fallible octogenarians who don’t know how to be progressive.” I am sure, even when Pres. Monson was a relatively young man called as an apostle, he would not have condoned same sex relations. I understand your position, but the church knows we must live in the world. Laws that pass affect us, our missionary work, our ability to build the kingdom of God upon the earth.

  16. Michael Towns: “because we live in an inherently free society that we have to let said society continue to commit spiritual suicide.”

    This is exactly right. Except that there is no suicide for those who are already spiritually dead. State sponsered marriage among the Gentiles is nothing to get over-protective of, and it never was. It is already plauged by high divorce rates and lots of misery, and if it survives till death, it has no power in the afterlife. Jettboy is right to ask, why even participate at all? Even decades ago, when divorce rates were low, misery and abuse in marriage was even more common.

    But eternal marriage in the temple is the pearl of great price. In this battle over same-sex marriage, we need to keep our eye on the ball, not get distracted by the intrigues of Gentile state-sponsered marriage, which was apostate to begin with.

  17. Nate, I think what many people are failing to see is that it is only a matter of time until marriage in the temple is under attack as well.

  18. It already is under attack, from the inside. Once you have them joining with the Gentile’s to force gay sealings then what power does the Earthly Church have? Actually, the scriptures seem to indicate something like that is going to happen and only God’s wrath on the world will save the destruction of the righteous. It also says that no matter what the prophecies about evil almost winning, the righteous must fight to keep it at bay or be numbered among them. I don’t think we are doing or even saying enough to keep our hands clean.

  19. Heber C. Kimball’s prophecy continues to be fulfilled (slightly edited and my own asterisks inserted).

    “After a while the gentiles will gather in Salt Lake City by the thousands, and this will be among the wicked cities of the world……

    An army of elders will be sent to the four quarters of the earth, to search out the righteous and, warn the wicked of coming events……

    All kinds of religions will be started, and miracles performed that will deceive the very elect, if such a thing were possible.

    ****Persecution comes next, and all Latter-day Saints will be tested to the limit.**** Many will apostatize, and others will stand still, not knowing what to do. …

    The judgements of God will be poured out upon the wicked, to the extent that our elders from far and near will be called home; or in other words, the Gospel will be taken from the gentiles, and later on will be carried to the Jews…..

    Before that day comes, however, the Saints will be put to the test that will try the very best of them.

    ****The pressure will become so great that the righteous among us will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes.”*****

    The righteous among us will cry unto the Lord day and night until deliverance comes. <—- That certainly sounds like we faithful LDS are going to have a real joyride in the coming years.

  20. I don’t see how a suit to force gay sealings could prevail, when no church has ever been forced to marry an interracial couple.

    Regarding the original post: You think gay marriage is bathwater, fine, but why throw out the baby out with the bathwater? Aren’t your wife and children, and the things afforded them by being officially recognized, more important to you than making some symbolic gesture reminding gays that you still disapprove of them? Is your disapproval of gays stronger than your love of your family? I’m truly confused by the logic here.

  21. Jettboy, if marriage in the temple will be under attack someday, then it would be best to prepare for that. It would behove us to “make friends with the mammon of unrighteousness, that they might recieve us into everlasting habitations.”

    But instead we’ve squandered our good-will with the Gentiles by lobbing all our amunition in a loosing battle over gay-marriage. Now the Gentiles know our true colors. We are against them and we are against equality. We are backward people who seek to impose politically our narrow and prejudiced views upon the entire populace, and Gentiles will have their revenge. They will teach us a lesson. They will sue us and force us to abandon our schauvanistic practices. There is no place in our enlightened world for the homophobia and hatred of Mormons.

    But all of this could be avoided if we behave just a little more like Quakers, peculiar, peaceful people who do their own thing, but who don’t millitate politically against others. No one is going to force Quakers to gay marry people in their quaint little churches, because Quakers are curius folk, but we know they are really harmless as doves. But Mormons, we’re going to have to straiten them out. That kind of homophobia is dangerous! It’s killing people! Have you seen all these Mormon kids that are committing suicide? We’ve got to stop the madness!

    It’s not too late to try and change the destructive rhetoric. But we need to start right now to put down our political and rhetorical weapons of war. He who lives by the sword shall perish by the sword. The way of the Lord is to say “come follow me,” to take “one from a city, two from a family” to proclaim a narrow way that “few will find.”

  22. “But all of this could be avoided if we behave just a little more like Quakers, peculiar, peaceful people who do their own thing, but who don’t millitate politically against others. No one is going to force Quakers to gay marry people in their quaint little churches, because Quakers are curius folk, but we know they are really harmless as doves. ”

    Yes, we could be more like the Quakers.

    But we are *not* the Quakers, we’re the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, belonging to the church and kingdom of God on the earth, led by Christ and His apostles, with the true priesthood authority to administer in His holy name. We are not like any other church, sect, or religious group.

    And, nate, do I really need to remind you that the prophet, through his representatives, asked us to stand for traditional marriage? Whether it’s a losing proposition short-term, it doesn’t matter. Responding in faith to a prophet’s call is worth ANY amount of political, cultural, social hardship or ridicule. I care nothing for those things.

    We are losing many battles, but the war’s outcome was settled long ago. We are going to win.

  23. I live in fear that people like you will be successful. I am hopeful that my Social Security spousal benefit will still be around when I retire.
    Please do not promote taking away spousal benefits. For those of us women who spend many years raising children we need companies to let us participate in medical plans. We need Social Security to give us spousal benefits.
    With so many people NOT marrying and NOT having children, I live in fear that popular opinion will force the government and companies to quit offering things like this to what they will consider the undeserving SAHMs.

  24. “And, nate, do I really need to remind you that the prophet, through his representatives, asked us to stand for traditional marriage?”

    It’s a bit like Zion’s Camp I suppose. Let’s all march off thousands of miles and then march right back home. Elder Oaks last talk in General Conference signaled a new way foward. The way forward makes a strong distinction between the laws of the land, and the laws of the church, instead of trying to make the laws of the land the same as the laws of the church. So Zion’s Camp is over. Time to go home. Time to ask ourselves what we learned on the march. Time to ask ourselves why we engaged in something that had no pragmatic significance, and instead probably simply further aggravated Gentile tensions in the area.

    I don’t fault anyone for going on Zion’s Camp with itchy trigger fingers. It was the call of the prophet. It was a sacrifice they made to the Lord, and the Lord accepted it. I failed the test I suppose by staying home. But the real reason things like Zion’s Camp happened, or Blacks and the Priesthood, were not nescessarily because they were inspired decisions, but rather solutions imperfectly worked out by good men who were “not commanded in all things.” God lets His leaders study it out in their mind, try different things, like Nephi getting the brass plates. This works whether for the church as a whole, or individually.

    I’m just glad the march is over, and I hope we can all get quickly to the next stage, which is to cut and run, build up Zion far away from our delusion that the American dream and the Mormon Zion were somehow compatible.

  25. “Time to ask ourselves why we engaged in something that had no pragmatic significance, and instead probably simply further aggravated Gentile tensions in the area.”

    Perhaps it’s simply time to accept that the Lord’s ways are not our ways, and the Lord’s thoughts are not our thoughts. Perhaps we can give the Lord the benefit of the doubt and that He plays a long strategic game of chess while we struggle with checkers.

    Also, I respectfully submit that you are misinterpreting Elder Oak’s talk. I just read it again and there is literally no new doctrine, no new teaching, no new principle. He simply preached the restored gospel of Jesus Christ. It was a reaffirmation of God’s moral standard, which hasn’t changed since Sinai.

  26. State licensing of marriages probably stems from a desire to prevent miscegenation. Otherwise, marriage solemnization via jumping over a broom or quick words by a preacher should be perfectly acceptable.

    The “legal and lawful” language with which we’re familiar has nothing to do with Laws of God and everything to do with Laws of Man. Its origin lies in the 1890 and 1904 manifestos: marriages were thenceforth to be limited to those “legal and lawful.”

  27. Various people throughout history have decided they didn’t like the marriage laws/customs.

    The protestants who we term Pilgrims were amongst these. They would refrain from marrying in the eyes of the Church, since they felt marriage was not a sacrament that the Church should have any say in (if I understand correctly).

    This is why it is nearly impossible to prove lineage to past generations if you trace yourself back to a Pilgrim.

    Having studied people who decided to flout local custom for reasons of conscience, realize that you are reducing the evidence that you and your spouse ought be accorded legal protections accorded married people. You are reducing the likelihood your children will be able to claim their legal due as your legitimate offspring/wards, and you will reduce the probability that future generations can figure out who you were associated with in life.

    I know M* tends to be quite libertarian, but AoF 12 is pretty clear.

    I’m presuming that the objection to civil marriage (or at least the reason for posting today) is that civil marriage has now been extended to include more categories of couples than it previously did? That’s like saying “I won’t eat dinner because you invited [insert name] to dine with you as well.”

    But the Lord Jesus I have learned about saw fit to dine with publicans and sinners. I don’t think He would have eschewed legal marriage merely because the operational definition of marriage had expanded.

  28. Nate, the trouble with your Zion’s Camp analogy is that the formation of the camp was indeed inspired, and the underlying revelation remains in our canon as D&C 103.

    Sometimes we happen upon lemons and all we can do is make lemonade. But other times the Lord deliberately gives us lemons, because He WANTS us to make lemonade and lemons are kind of integral to that process.

    The gay marriage fight is part of a larger struggle for “normalization” of same-sex relationships. That WILL result in more youths experimenting with gay sex, and more people opting into same sex relationships when their position on the gay/bisexual/straight spectrum could have found them in an equally happy, and sealable (and non-sinful per se union. It will also result, just as de-criminalization of adultery and fornication has, in more children who are denied the benefit of either a mother or a father. This isn’t rocket science–when you de-stigmatize a behavior, you get more of it.

    Satan will find his useful idiots across the political spectrum. If it weren’t the gay rights folks out to break us, it would be the hard-line evangelicals or militant Muslims.

    Bottom line: The Church didn’t do too much to preserve “traditional marriage” and the nuclear family. If anything it did far too little, and about forty years too late.

  29. Cynthia L – same sex marriage and interracial marriage is not comparable. Despite the conclusions drawn by the Judge in the Utah case, sexual orientation is not immutable or unchangeable. Genetic origins are measurable and static throughout life, as parentage is pretty specific and does not change through adoption. Sexual orientation, despite attempts to link it to genetics (which has only resulted in probabilities), can change throughout life. It is dependant only on the desire of the individual at a specific time.

  30. Frank, you utterly missed the point. If anything, your comment only *strengthens* my argument. You are arguing that race is a stronger, more immutable characteristic than sexual orientation (which I actually agree with), so then it is even *less* acceptable in law to discriminate on the basis of race than sexual orientation (which is factually the current state of affairs in the law), and therefore if a church cannot be forced to marry an interracial couple, SURELY it cannot be forced to marry a gay couple. Right? Thanks for making my point stronger for me.

  31. Cynthia – wasn’t aiming at your point. Was aiming at your supposition comparing same-sex marriage to interracial marriage. And, while it does strengthen the notion that Churches will not likely be forced to marry anyone they do not want to marry, it also weakens the notion that SSM is the same as opposite-gender marriage.

  32. Uh . . . Government DID use pressure to compel churches to participate in–or at least least mute their opposition to–interracial marriages. See, e.g., the Bob Jones University case. It was a much more velvet-glove approach, because not all the pieces to the rhetorical, logical, and legal puzzle were in place then.

    They are in place today, or very nearly so. There is a clear-cut legal precedent that marriage is a state benefit. There is clear precedent that the state may not discriminate by gender in allocating that benefit. There is also clear benefit out of Massachusetts that private individuals administering state benefits as part of a public-private partnership, are bound by the same tenets of nondiscrimination that bind the state itself (in that case, the “benefit” was the placement for adoption of wards of the State by religiously-affiliated agencies).

    All that is lacking is a judge who will put the pieces together in the requisite manner.

  33. JimD, a Catholic adoption agency couldn’t refuse to place a state-custody child with a Jewish family, but Catholic priests can and routinely do refuse to marry non-Catholics. It’s apples and oranges comparing adoption of state-custody children and performing marriages. Note that the church’s adoption services only adopt to temple-worthy LDS couples, and they can do that. They simply can’t adopt out state-custody children with that restriction. The adoption of state custody children is really a much more special case than a lot of people who cite it willy-nilly realize.

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