Monday, August 21, 2006

Divorce the Church!

Even in laid-back Seattle, Post-Intelligencer columnist Susan Paynter may have pushed it a bit far. Her A new pulpit view of the marriage issue centers on ministers who would rather tend to souls -- and get out of the marriage business.

As in Massachusetts, Washington State is clear that marriage is a civil contract. Not by the grace of God, but rather by the indulgence of the government, priests and other clerics can sign marriage licenses. However, not only is a religious veneer unnecessary, the right not the ritual is what matters.

That is particular plain if the state later dissolves the marriage. While Roman Catholics can go through their church's annulment process, that in no way breaks their civil contract. They have to go to the state for that.

One more time, civil contracts and religious rituals are separate.

You'd figure that would be plain to local lawyers, but there is at least one in Olympia who is confused or forgetful. The otherwise gay-rights-supportive Gov. Christine Gregoire would sign a same-sex-marriage law, even though she personally seems to prefer civil unions. She is a bit befuddled about marriage law in her state.

Following the recent court loss there for SSM, she made a very odd statement:
As to my personal beliefs, Mike and I received the sacrament of marriage in the Catholic faith. State government provided us with certain rights and responsibilities, but the state did not marry us. I believe the state should provide these same rights and responsibilities to all citizens. I also believe the sacrament of marriage is between two people and their faith; it is not the business of the state.
Many people are emotional about their own marriage when they had a church wedding. What's odd is not that they would confuse the civil and church. However, Gregoire is an attorney and former prosecutor, who is supposed to know the law. The sacrament may well involve a stroll up the nave and some nifty rituals. However, she ought to know that Washington State is the marriage authority for her and Mike.

Likewise, we are seeing more of such confusion. One example was recently in Slate. "The Explainer" writes again to remind folk that the romantic, Hunchback of Notre Dame idea of a church as sanctuary for criminals does not apply, not in this country, not now. While many police forces avoid going into churches to arrest felons, they have the legal right.

More troubling and related to SSM, Canadian churches are pulling some of the same tricks as some here and elsewhere in the United States. By pushing and exceeding laws restricting partisan political activity, they not only imperil their tax exemptions, they also put their governments in a position of stopping winking at their efforts entirely.

A piece in The Globe and Mail, notes that a federal advisory group "has urged the Canada Revenue Agency to either close the loophole or accept that charities can now freely engage in partisan politics — such as campaigning to defeat sitting MPs who support same-sex marriage."

One such right-wing Christian coalition has announced that in the fall elections it has targeted three MPs who favor SSM. The group wrote to the Minister of National Revenue, "In the committee's view, much of this activity appears to cross the line from what is considered permissible political activity . . . to the type of activity the sector has always understood to be prohibited...If the current prohibition on ‘partisan political activities' does not apply to elected members, but only to candidates, the committee is of the view that amendments to the Income Tax Act be considered to rectify this anomaly."

North and South, some church politicians want it all ways. Leave us alone, we are spiritual, but by the way, we'll breach the church/state wall at will.

On the rational and legal side, Lois Hollstedt, who chaired the charities group said, "This was an issue that we all had one perspective on, which was that partisan political activities are not acceptable under any conditions...Charities need to be given a clear message."

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Anonymous said...

Very happy to see clergy point out the difference between civil marriage and a religious blessing on a union. And mostest happiest that they refuse to take part in the discriminatory system in WA.

What saddens me *greatly*, however, is that it appears to be (only?) gay clergy doing this. Where are the hetero clerics??? Step up, folks!

massmarrier said...

It may be at least partly the most obvious -- bucks. Two ministers I have discussed the Massachusetts solemnization process with have asked whether this didn't have the potential of robbing ministers of a steady source of income.

The one-day certificate process is pretty time consuming, as well as being limited to one a year. Yet you can see that the self-interest factor might be like telling cops that citizens could do their private details that they use to supplement income.

Anonymous said...

Wow. So you're saying that most ministers are mercenaries. They probably don't see it that way, but that's what it boils down to. Keep me supplied with wedding honoraria and I'll ignore my complicity in this discriminatory system. That's called morally bankrupt. How truly pathetic.