Two aspects of
marriages: civil & religious.
Should they be separate or joined?
In this website, "SSM" is used as an acronym for "same-sex marriage."
Secular and religious aspects:
Marriage is a very special institution because it has both secular and religious aspects:
- Governments see major social benefits to marriage and are thus encourage people to marry. Married couples are often able to provide a more secure environment for the raising of children when compared to many single parents.
Many observers perceive married couples as having a greater stake in the community than single individuals. Marriage lowers the country's promiscuity rate and the rate of transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs). It improves individuals' mental health and lengthens life expectancy.
Thus, many governments at all levels offer special protections, rights and obligations to married couples and their children (if any).
- Most religions view marriage as having a major religious aspect and provide one or more rituals to solemnize marriages. The Roman Catholic Church recognizes it as a sacrament and considers it permanent.
Comparison to baptism:
In contrast, Christian baptism has various religious aspects, but no significant civil aspect:
- The Roman Catholic Church teaches that the act of baptism -- even though often performed on an infant who is unable to give their consent -- has a profound effect on the person being baptized. It is believed to erase the stain of original sin that each newborn inherets from a misbehavior by Adam and Eve some 240 generations ago. This transfer of sin and punishment from the guilty to the innocent may seem strange in today's world, but it is a long-standing Christian principle grounded in many biblical passages.
- Many Protestant churches and other faith groups look upon baptism as a ceremony to welcome the person -- often a newborn -- into the congregation and into the rest of the Body of Christ -- the community of Christian believers.
- Many fundamentalist and other evangelical denominations view baptism as a public demonstration of a prior decision to be saved by first repenting of one's sins and then trusting Jesus as Lord and Savior. It is thus performed only after the individual has matured sufficiently to be meaninfully "saved."
- Baptism has esseintially no civil implications. The author of this essay was not baptised as an infant because the family attended the Leaside Baptist Church, now in Metropolitan Toronto. He was too young at the time to be "saved." He was not baptized as a child or youth because his parents had switched to the United Church of Canada by that time, and that faith group normally baptizes infants. Before he reached the age when he would have been expected to be baptized and join the United Church, he left that faith group and became a Unitarian -- a religion that doesn't baptize its members. And so he remains unbaptized at the age of 73.
His municipal, provincial, and federal governments couldn't care less or treat him any differently because of his lack of having been baptized. Whether St. Peter at the Pearly Gates cares is a debatable question.
The only civil implication if baptism is that church baptismal records have occasionally been used to established a person's age when no other documents are available.
France: a country that separates church and state in marriage:
According to Wikipedia:
"In many European and some Latin American countries, any religious ceremony must be held separately from the required civil ceremony. Some countries -- such as Belgium, Bulgaria, France, the Netherlands, Romania and Turkey -- require that a civil ceremony take place before any religious one. 1
France has almost completely separated the government and religious aspects of marriage. A couple first goes to a local government office, supplies personal documents, and applies to be married. After a period of time, the banns are posted; this must happen at least ten days before the civil marriage is to occurr.
The couple enters a civil marriage at the local government office. This grants them and their children all of the state's benefits, privileges, protections, and obligations of marriage. If they wish, they can then go to a church, mosque, synagogue, or other religious institution to have an optional religious marriage; this grants them the status of marriage as viewed from within their religious community.
The religious ceremony can only be performed after the civil ceremony. The minister, priest, rabbi or other clergyperson requires under civil law, a certificate of civil marriage as proof that the couple has already been married by the state. The couple will often schedule both the civil and religious marriages on the same day.
Marriage in Canada:
The situation in Canada is quite different from that in the U.S. A single federal law defines who is eligible to be married. All ten provinces and three territories. Thus the change in a single law changed the rules across the entire country. In the U.S., marriage is a state responsibility. Introducing same-sex marriage requires a state-by-state fight until the U.S. Supreme Court makes it available across the country as it did with interracial marriages in 1967.
When the debate over marriage equality first surfaced in Canada, the type of separation of the civil and religious aspects of marriage found in France was suggested. However, constitutional experts agreed that this would require the agreement of all ten provincial governments, all three territorial governments and the federal government. The provinces of Alberta and Prince Edward Island have traditionally been very sluggish in offering even partial rights to homosexuals and bisexuals; they could have been expected to deny agreement. Thus, this option was perceived as an impossible to implement.
In 2005, the Canadian federal government introduced a bill in Parliament which would make available civil marriage for every loving, committed couple -- whether same-sex or opposite-sex. The government took great pains to clarify that the bill only refers to "civil marriage" and not "religious marriage."
The text of the bill, C-38, is available online. The summary reads:
"This enactment extends the legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes to same-sex couples in order to reflect values of tolerance, respect and equality, consistent with the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms. It also makes consequential amendments to other Acts to ensure equal access for same-sex couples to the civil effects of marriage and divorce." 2
Tarek Fatah, spokesperson for the Muslim Canadian Congress at the time, said that his group would support the bill. He said: "Our position is that this is not about religion at all. We believe in the separation of church and state."
Irwin Cotler, who was the Justice Minister at the time, said:
"I understand that Canadians are struggling with this issue -- there are different perspectives and we have to respect the pluralities of opinion. But we also have to understand that what we're talking about is civil marriage -- ...extending civil marriage to gays and lesbians. ... As the Supreme Court put it, this does not take away any rights of others. This does not affect religious marriage nor does it affect the rights of religious officials to refuse to solemnize a marriage because of their religious belief....The courts have spoken clearly....If Canadians want to challenge [the law] afterwards, that's up to them." 3
Bill C-38 was passed by Parliament and enacted by one stroke of pen by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada. The Governor General who normally signs bills into law was in a hospital at the time. Same-sex marriage has since become part of the Canadian culture. Outside of religious publications, we have never seen protests against SSM in recent years in the media. As young people with a homosexual or bisexual orientation realize that they are not heterosexual, they are aware that marriage and children are future options for them.
Some commentators interpret the introduction of Bill 906 in the California Senate to be the first step towards the separation of the religious and civil aspects of marriage in that state.
The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above
essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.
- "Marriage," Wikipedia, as on: 2010-APR-15, at: http://en.wikipedia.org/
- "C-38: An act respecting certain aspects of legal capacity for marriage for civil purposes," LEGIS Info, Library of Parliament, at: http://www.parl.gc.ca/
- "Same-sex marriage: Liberals aim to defuse religious opposition. Bill shields right to refuse," The Toronto Star, 2005-FEB-01, Page A1 and A8.
Copyright © 2010 by Ontario Consultants on Religious
Original posting: 2010-APR-14
Latest update: 2010-APR-15
Author: B.A. Robinson