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A Solution to America’s Same-Sex Marriage Controversies: Getting Married the French Way

wedding-ringsEfforts to make same-sex marriage legal in the U.S. have spawned all manner of grievance among people of faith who are opposed to a “gay life style.” The French way of marrying would quiet some of the furor, it seems to me.

French law recognizes only civil marriage.  Everyone who wants to be married must go before a French civil authority, which includes the mayor, his or her legal replacement, the deputy mayor, or a city council member.  The civil authority performs a brief ceremony, papers are signed, and the couple then is entitled to the legal benefits, and must assume the legal responsibilities of marriage.  In France, religious ceremonies are optional.  One may think of them as blessings. They have no legal status, and may only be held after the civil ceremony has taken place.

This procedure would seem far preferable to the present American way, where the state grants privilege to a clergy person to act temporarily as an agent of the state in order to verify that a marriage has been performed according to state law.  Historically there has always been a problem about who shall qualify to perform marriages.  The present American system evolved, evidently, to preserve the separation of church and state; but wouldn’t this purpose be far better served by requiring that all persons wishing to be married be joined by the state first, after which they could, if they desired, have their marriage consecrated by a religious authority?

This procedure would remove the state from the sticky business of deciding which persons shall be qualified to perform legal marriages; and it would allow religious authorities to define marriage in their own terms, to bless only those marriages which seem right by their conscience. Also, by this procedure, a religious community’s disapproval of a civil marriage could in no way hinder the partners’ enjoyment of their legal benefits.  Let religious communities define marriage as they see fit.  Their decisions could in no way affect the benefits or responsibilities of persons joined by civil law.  This solution would seem to quiet a good deal of the acrimony over the definition and purpose of marriage, and who may rightfully be married.

— TCDavis

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  1. Tom, I think your suggestion on how to separate Church from State is perfect. It is, after all, the State that gives civil benefits to citizens, including those benefits that pertain to citizens who wish to live as a unit, as in “marriage.” Let the churches determine within their own sects which unions they wish to recognize and therefore bless, and let the citizens of a country enjoy the civil benefits that they would be entitled to as a union of two. Since the Church does not issue any civil benefits, as in tax relief, survivor benefits, retirement and others, the Church should be confined to tending to the spiritual benefits, and the State should administer the civil benefits. Marriage should be for anyone who loves another and wants to live that love as a union, and all civil benefits should be afforded all unions regardless of sexual orientation.

    • Thanks for your comment, Brian. I must confess that I, as a “professional religious,” I have benefited considerably from tax advantages. A portion of a minister’s income can be designated as a housing allowance, and this is not taxable. If a minister buys his/her house, then he/she also gets a mortgage tax benefit . I’m becoming persuaded that neither tax benefit is fair to renters and laypeople who cannot find such tax shelters. Historically, the housing allowance benefit has been justified on the grounds of the separation of church and state. But a minister’s home is private property, not church property. So, I think that the housing allowance is an unfair advantage, a way that the state gives unwarranted protection to religion. Nationally we face an immense challenge of tax reform. This matter is one small piece of the needed reform. No one wants his/her own ox gored, but we must all sacrifice at least a little to climb out of the hole we’re in.

  2. I love the French way of getting married! Why NOT have the religious aspect come second? How did we as a country get to a place that certain people can determine who is free to love anyone else? This is a great idea – I only wish Americans were a little bit more open-minded and sensical about these things.

    • Thanks for your comment, Suzy

      I’ve been thinking about the resistance to same-sex marriage. I think that some of it has to do with a lack of understanding about the gender complexity of our species. But I also think that it has to do somewhat with wanting one’s religion to govern all of life–not just one’s own life, but everyone else’s too. For example, if one has only one model of marriage (one man, one woman) one feels that any other kind of marriage is perverse and ought not to be permitted. Religious believers are not the only ones who may think this way. There are certainly some secular folks who don’t tolerate a diversity of opinion. Nevertheless, it’s those who yearn for theocracy who are the most prone to dogmatism.

  3. Ty. Johnson Ty. Johnson

    Tom, thanks for your comments they were enlightening. I like the French model because it affords those who profess to love one another to benefit. I has a daughter that is Gay and I love her dearly. Why should she not enjoy the benefits of union because of my beliefs and her love for me. The Church deems marriage to be between a man and a women, but what happen to “through love and kindness have I drawn thee”?

  4. Dear Ty,
    Thanks for leaving a comment. Alice and I got to know gay folk through our work, she as an administrator for the Health Crisis Network in Miami, and I as a marriage and family counselor. We found that people who have gay family members usually grow in awareness about homosexuality as they relate to the family member. Obviously, that has been so in your case. Unfortunately it is not always so. Sometimes the gay family member is rejected, and there occurs in the family what counselors call a “cutoff.” There is no longer any communication between the persons who are divided. This is so tragic for the whole family! A cutoff causes the whole family to experience pain, and to react in ways that often are unhealthy. For many religious people it takes great courage not to reject a gay person in their family, because there has been homophobia in the ancient communities which passed along the scriptures and religious traditions, and those scriptures and traditions are very important to pious people. Nevertheless, when love is stronger than inherited teachings, one finds ways to keep loving instead of rejecting.

  5. Vernon Neece Vernon Neece

    Brother Tom, once again you have come up with an elegant solution to a contentious issue – i.e. gay marriage. It peeves me that many of the same people that complain about “the government” telling them what to do want to tell so many others how they can or can’t live.

    On another note, I think the clergy housing allowance tax benefit came up when churches stopped providing a manse for their ministers who them had to provide their own housing. Also, I think another reason clergy were given the tax benefit was because historically they often received low wages.

    • Good to hear from you, Vern. Thanks for your sympathy regarding low wages; but clergy are not all underpaid. So, we need to deal with a taboo issue: class. Is that not what the current fight is about regarding the national budget? Wealthy folk are trying to undo all that Roosevelt accomplished with his New Deal. Would the likes of the house Republicans have their way, the progressive income tax would be repealed. There is a dark, selfish strain in the country that would have us ignore the prophets voices in our sacred scriptures, crying out for compassion and justice. A fight for the soul of America has just begun.
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