In a provocative “On the Square” article today, Stuart Koehl declares that the Church should be An Independent Witness to Marriage by ceasing to act of as agent of the state in marrying people. In response to conservative writer R. Emmett Tyrrell’s suggestion that we solve the problem of “gay marriage” by privatizing marriage, Koehl writes:
Tyrrell has it backwards: rather than the state getting out of the “sacraments business” (which it really isn’t in), the Church should simply stop acting an agent of the state in the execution of marriage contracts. When a priest or minister says the magic words, “By the power invested in me by the State of ___,” he is acting as a civil magistrate binding the couple in the whole web of rights, duties, and obligations pertaining to marriage under civil law. His action is at one level religious, but it is predominantly legal.
The churches in America, and in the West in general, would be much better off if his action weren’t, Koehl argues.