Efforts 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.