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No-fault divorce changed the American culture of marriage. So did the sexual revolution. Now proponents of gay rights are redefining marriage at an even more fundamental level. What’s to be done? As a post-biblical vision of sex, gender, and marriage gains the upper hand in our society, should our religious institutions get out of marriage? Should priests, pastors, and rabbis renounce their roles as deputies of state authority in marriage? Or should we sustain the close links between religious and civil marriage?

To help us think more clearly about these issues, we asked eight writers to respond to the following question: With the legal affirmation of same-sex marriage in some states, should churches, synagogues, and mosques stop performing civil marriages?

Ryan T. Anderson

The redefinition of marriage will have profound consequences for society. For this reason, focusing at this point on getting the Church out of the civil marriage business or—a true fantasy—getting the government out of the marriage business ultimately distracts us from what most needs doing: defending the truth about marriage.

Provided that rabbis, imams, and Christian ministers are not coerced into performing services that violate their beliefs about marriage, they should continue our tradition of the joint sacred-civil service. Of course, if a state were to require any minister who believes the truth about marriage—that it is a union of male and female—to perform same-sex marriages, that would give him good reason to stop acting as the state’s agent. And once he did, the First Amendment would protect him, as a religious minister, against further coercion.

The coercion that should really concern us is broader—and unavoidable wherever same-sex marriage is recognized. As experience has already shown, the redefinition of marriage and related state policies on sexual orientation have led to intolerance, intimidation, and even government coercion and discrimination against citizens who believe that marriage unites a man and a woman and that sexual relations are properly reserved for marriage.

Recently, the New Mexico Supreme Court ruled that the First Amendment does not protect a photographer’s right to decline to take pictures of a same-sex commitment ceremony—even though doing so would violate the Christian photographer’s deeply held religious beliefs.

Christian adoption and foster-care agencies have been forced to stop providing services because they object to placing children in same-sex households. Similar cases include a baker, a florist, a bed-and-breakfast, a T-shirt company, a student counselor, the Salvation Army, and more.

Religious liberty infringements aren’t the only cause for concern. The redefinition of marriage will undermine the public understanding of what marriage is and what it requires of spouses. That will make spouses less likely to live out the truth about marriage, and all of society will suffer as a consequence. After all, the law teaches, and what it teaches about marriage matters.

Debating whether religious communities should perform civil marriages undermines the more urgent task of teaching the truth about marriage. But the reverse isn’t true. Given mounting political pressure, we may think it prudent to discuss how to distance ourselves from civil marriage. But, in fact, defending the truth about marriage—including civil marriage—and persuading the public that our views of marriage are reasonable will go a long way toward securing at least the political freedom to live by them.

That freedom matters, because Americans and the associations we form—nonprofit and for-profit—should be free to speak and act in the public square based on our beliefs about marriage as the union of a man and woman, without fear of government penalty.

That freedom is threatened because our neighbors fail to understand even why we believe as we do. And the fault frequently lies with us, for being too often unwilling to make our case.

Our efforts must be extended and multiplied. We need dozens of different ways of defending marriage philosophically, legally, and as a policy matter. We need theologians as well as artists, musicians, and other culture makers to engage in the same task.

That won’t happen if we let discussions about Church and marriage or state and marriage displace the more basic task of actually discussing what marriage is. The best defense of our interests is a defense of the truth by which we seek to live.

Ryan T. Anderson is the William E. Simon
Fellow in Religion and a Free Society at the
Heritage Foundation, and editor of
Public Discourse.

Vigen Guroian

The recent Supreme Court decisions and laws that various states have adopted sanctioning same-sex marriages gravely challenge the Orthodox Church and ­other churches for which marriage in its very nature is comprised of male and female members. Every sacrament includes non-substitutable elements of transformation: wine and bread in the Eucharist, water and oil in baptism, and male and female in marriage. Same-sex marriage is a nonsensical locution; our use of it, such as in the question posed, reveals the extent to which already the proponents of this misnomer have the advantage.

The challenge that Orthodox and other Christians face, therefore, is a challenge to marriage, plain and simple. This requires careful navigation, as during the period that began with the emperors Theodosius I and Theodosius II in the fourth and fifth centuries through Justinian in the sixth century. During this era, Christianity was established as the religion of the Roman Empire, and great codes were promulgated that truly began to define and shape Christendom. Now this legacy is being banished from North American soil as prohibitions restricting abortion and suicide, and customs of public prayer and observation of Christian holy days, are cleansed from the land. Next, marriage stands to be twisted into something it is not by a ruinous juridical and legislative nominalism.

Orthodox Christians have a long historical experience under Muslim domination in the Middle East (and within some European nations). That experience can provide us guidance for life under secularist domination. Under Muslim domination, civil marriage and religious marriage were separate, the former the province of the state, the latter belonging solely to the Church. Under these arrangements, couples had to go through two distinct steps to be married: They received the sacrament of marriage in their church, and they obtained a state marriage license. Now, here in North America, under an increasingly intrusive secularist state, the churches themselves must initiate a similar two-tiered arrangement. Neither medieval nor Enlightenment models are useful or beneficial to the Church and sacred matrimony any longer.

Almost a decade ago, I delivered a keynote address to the annual diocesan meeting of the Eastern Prelacy of the Armenian Church of America in which I argued that in states where same-sex marriage is law, our bishops should prohibit priests from participating in the standard process of delivering marriage contracts on the state’s behalf.

I argued that when clergy in these states continue to deliver civil marriage contracts, the Church is complicit in a radical redefinition of marriage contradictory to the fundamental teachings of the Orthodox faith. I also argued that this change in Church practice could provide an opportunity to instruct Orthodox Christians about the meaning of marriage as sacrament. This is needed today. Many think of marriage merely as contract. The obstacles to this action are a combination of inertia and fear that adoption of a two-tiered marriage process might lead to fewer couples seeking the sacrament.

I do not think that the story ends here, however. Pressures will continue and only build, culminating in legal actions designed to require churches to marry same-sex couples. This dire future is sadly plausible because so many understand marriage in strictly consensual and contractual terms. The Orthodox Church has never taught that marriage is in the contract. Rather, marriage is in the blessing and God’s presence through it. Marriage is also profoundly related to baptism and the Eucharist. Yet, today, the Orthodox churches do not offer a nuptial Eucharist, or anything of that sort. It is common practice in the Armenian Church, however, for couples to take Communion together on the Sunday preceding their wedding. It would be theologically right and worldly wise for all of the Orthodox churches to bring the Eucharist into the marital rite, or at least in closer liturgical proximity to marital practice, as in the Armenian case. This would be demonstrative of the close relation of marriage to the Eucharist and strengthen appeals to the free-exercise clause that may be needed in a future when the state mandates or otherwise pressures churches through punitive sanctions to marry same-sex couples.

—Vigen Guroian is professor of religious
studies in Orthodox Christianity
at the University of Virginia.

Russell D. Moore

No, not yet. Marriage is, of course, more than a matter of statecraft. That’s the reason we deny that the state can, for instance, call marriages into being without creational essentials such as sexual complementarity. Marriage is grounded in the natural order itself (Gen. 2:21–23) and points beyond nature to the Gospel mystery that stands behind and makes sense of the cosmos (Eph. 5:31–32).

Obviously, then, if the state ever forced congregations or religious institutions to solemnize unions that are not, in our view, marriages, we would be compelled to obey God and conscience and not the bureaucrats. Even with the audacity of recent religious liberty incursions, though, that moment will not be upon us any time soon.

Instead, what we see are governments affirming both unions we do recognize as marriages and those that are something else. As citizens, we ought to oppose the redefinition of marriage, but, should we lose across the board, what should we do as churches?

Churches should join together only those who meet the creational criteria for marriage. A church that accommodates itself to the sexual revolution is no longer a church of Jesus Christ.

Moreover, churches should only marry those who are accountable to the Church and to the gathered witnesses, and who are held to their vows. The marrying parson who stands where the wedding coordinator tells him to, reads his script, and signs the paperwork for whatever couple shows up is a disgraceful hireling and ought to do an honest day’s work as a justice of the peace rather than as a steward of the mysteries of God.

When a congregation certifies a biblically married couple to be also civilly married, the congregation is not affirming the state’s definition of marriage. Instead, the Church is witnessing to the state’s role in recognizing marriage as something that stands before and is foundational to society. We are bearing witness to the fact that these unions are the business of the larger society in ways other unions aren’t.

We are witnessing that the state has no business in recreating marriage, but the state does have a responsibility to safeguard children, by holding mothers and fathers to their vows to each other and to the next generation.

In this sense, we are acting much as Jesus did when he was asked about the payment of the temple tax. Jesus believed himself and his disciples to be heirs of the kingdom and thus free from this obligation. Nonetheless, he paid the half-shekel “so as not to give offense to them” (Matt. 17:27).

If the state ever attempts to force us to call marriage that which is not marriage in our churches and ceremonies, let’s obey God, even if that means we sing our wedding hymns in the prison block. But, for now, by registering Gospel-qualified unions as civil marriages and not officiating at unions that are not Gospel-qualified, we call the government to its responsibility even as we call attention to its limits.

We gladly render unto Caesar what belongs to Caesar, but the image imprinted on the marriage union isn’t the union of Caesar and his court, but of Christ and his Church.

Russell D. Moore is president of the Ethics
and Religious Liberty Commission of
the Southern Baptist Convention.

Francesca Aran Murphy

Cutting the link between civil marriage and Christian marriage seems to make sense because Christian attitudes about marriage now seem so “discriminatory” to many that they may soon be criminalized. A chasm has opened between the conception of marriage held by most of our contemporaries and the Catholic, sacramental conception. For most people today, a homosexual person is like that chap who dies in Four Weddings and a Funeral: a perfectly decent and admirable man who just wants to marry the person he loves but is prevented by society from doing so. Few other than religious people, and not nearly all of them, can see how weird that idea is.

Even most Catholics have little appreciation of the spiritual and sacramental meaning of marriage. The saintly priest who prepared me for confirmation back in 1985 remarked that he wished he could perform one kind of ceremony for couples who want to get hitched and another for the tiny number who had glimpsed the nuptial theology—that the marriage of man and woman is a symbol of the marriage between Christ and his Church—that makes their vows binding until death.

Paul Griffiths has argued, completely reasonably, that so few Catholics live by the ideal of matrimony as binding two lives together into “one flesh,” and so many of us divorce or misuse the annulment courts, that Catholics have lost the right to “own” and define the public, civil meaning of marriage. It takes an informed faith to grasp the Catholic meaning of marriage, with its underlying Pauline nuptial mysticism. Most Catholics don’t have the requisite spiritual formation to take part in this ceremony: They do not know what they are letting themselves in for.

A teaching that was once part of the common sense of society has now become an item of faith, and rather an esoteric faith. Only those with biblical principles, including those Catholics who use natural law, seem to be able to see the need to restrict marriage to heterosexual couples. The rational arguments we offer fall on deaf ears. We may as well be citing Scripture.

People for whom I have great respect hold that the Church should not “die in a ditch” for a principle that has become a truth of faith rather than a matter of shared common knowledge within our society. They are quite right that seeing the Christian meaning of marriage today is a matter of faith and not reason. And yet I cannot agree with those who argue for cutting the link between the Christian sacramental liturgy that forms a man and woman into the image of Christ and his bride the Church, and the civil ceremony that enables them to be legally regarded as “next of kin.”

Their fideism is too reasonable. The best position is more fideistic than theirs: They think that ruling out same-sex marriage is a matter of faith, so we must abandon or sideline the public argument against it. I think the traditional view of marriage has indeed become a matter of faith and we have to keep on arguing for it to be on the law books, until and even after every state has ratified same-sex marriage.

Yes, it takes the craziest kind of faith really to see that the marital bond between man and woman is so deep that it is rooted in the supernatural life of the Trinity. But what this crazy faith sees is that the Catholic mystical understanding of marriage is really true, really part and parcel of reality and of the divine laws of reality. Even though now few people hold this belief, this understanding of marriage reflects the anthropological and even trinitarian laws.

It’s up to us to defend the “public” character of these laws, even if and when belief in them is criminalized. Because to do so is to defend our fellow human beings from blasphemy against themselves and against God. So, it’s a Nein from me.

Francesca Aran Murphy is professor of
theology at the University of Notre Dame.

David Novak

In my opinion, Jewish, Christian, and Muslim clergy should stop officiating at civil marriage ceremonies altogether in those jurisdictions where same-sex couples have the right to register their unions as civil marriages. There are fundamental theological reasons for my stance having to do with the covenantal reality of marriage, but here I want to focus on political reasons.

Secularists have tremendous power in Canada and the United States. From them we hear increasingly about the secular “values,” especially egalitarianism. These “values” insist on the necessity of setting aside or redefining many traditional religious institutions, like heterosexual marriage. Indeed, secularist advocates now regularly castigate our religious traditions as being “discriminatory.”

Given this trend, how long will it be before my synagogue in Toronto will be forced by the court to allow a same-sex couple to be married in the sanctuary or have their wedding reception in the social hall? Not long, I fear. Clergy are now functioning as registers of civil marriage. We already know that other religious persons, whose job it is to officiate at civil marriages, have been forced out of their jobs altogether for refusing to register same-sex marriages (at least in Canada, where same-sex marriage is permitted throughout the country). The only difference between the two kinds of marriage registers, officially secular or officially religious, is the location of the respective weddings. Our legal vulnerability would be much less if my synagogue were no longer in the civil marriage “business” at all.

Even renouncing clergy’s role as register of civil marriages might not be enough. The day may yet come when purely religious weddings will have to be held clandestinely. It’s not hard to imagine that “anti-discriminatory” zealotry will insist on the duty of all officiants at any ceremony that solemnizes anything that calls itself a “marriage” (whether secular or religious) to do so for any couple who comes to them for this purpose. Those who refuse to do so will be penalized legally. As marriage is redefined by civil law, what’s to stop judges from requiring us all to conform to the new meaning?

Therefore, I suggest that faithful Jews, Christians, and Muslims work for the abolition of civil marriage altogether (wherever it has already lost its traditional definition), and for it to be replaced by civil unions. Since these civil unions need not involve any sexual relationship between the parties, there need be no concern about the state sanctioning what are illicit sexual unions by traditional standards, whose origins are admittedly religious. Like any contract, they could be worked out among the parties themselves. Of course, for Judaism, Christianity, and Islam, marriage is much more than an ordinary civil contract, but by defining civil marriage down, as it were, we’re more likely to preserve its covenantal meaning in our religious traditions. A covenantal relationship is much deeper than a merely contractual one.

I think this is a realistic direction to take in the public discussion. There is less and less of a secular consensus today as to the definition of what “marriage” actually is. It is only in the religious traditions of Judaism, Christianity, and Islam that “marriage” has a consistent definition (logically and historically) of what it is and what it is not. Only there can the fallacy of generalization (i.e., marriage being any officially sanctioned relationship two or more persons want it to be) be avoided. As such, why not leave the institution of marriage to the adherents of these venerable traditions (as in Israel)? Furthermore, isn’t the inclusion of same-sex unions in civil marriage still discriminatory, hence anti-egalitarian? And isn’t egalitarianism the value that liberals regularly invoke to justify the innovation of same-sex civil marriage? Why are polygamists excluded? Why is polyandry excluded? Why is “polyamory” (which involves more than one man and more than one woman) excluded? And what about people who feel intimate ties but don’t want to have sex with each other?

The clamor for same-sex civil marriage, when civil unions are readily available, seems to be beseeching the secular state for a blessing. (Indeed, several homosexuals have told me that they seek the blessing of the state because they feel they have been “cursed” by their families and their religious communities.) But the secular state is not and ought not be in the blessing business. Blessings have a uniquely religious meaning. So leave blessings to those who have a tradition in both receiving them and dispensing them. And, finally, as for the more liberal clergy (Jewish, Christian, and maybe Muslim, too) who do officiate at same-sex marriages (or even only “bless” them), they must be asked and ask themselves: What warrant do you have from your respective religious traditions (and the divine revelations upon which they are based) for engaging in such nontraditional, radical practices?

David Novak holds the J. Richard and
Dorothy Shiff Chair of Jewish Studies
at the University of Toronto.

Edward Peters

Before considering whether churches, synagogues, and mosques should “stop performing civil marriages,” we should first consider whether religious institutions are performing civil marriages and, if they are, whether it lies within their power to continue or cease doing so.

Setting aside Roman Catholic teaching that the bride and groom confer marriage on each other, canon law regards what clergy do in a wedding ceremony as fundamentally religious, not civil, in nature. Indeed, occasional queries from Catholic clergy about the possibility of officiating at a supposedly purely civil wedding are nearly always rejected by canonists.

Because no other religious rite carries so many implications under civil law, it is not hard to see why some characterize religious weddings as essentially civil exercises performed with music and flowers. But while it is not wholly mistaken to see clergy as state agents with regard to marriage, Church wedding rites are first and foremost religious and sacramental ceremonies that also happen (happily) to be recognized in America by civil authorities as marriage, which is why the state so willingly delegates that authority to clergy.

This brings us to the second consideration: Precisely because states, not religious institutions, grant civil recognition to religious wedding ceremonies, it is for states, not religious institutions, to decide whether civil recognition should be granted them in the future. It is not clear, therefore, exactly how religious institutions could unilaterally withhold civil recognition of their wedding rites any more than they could compel civil recognition of their rites by states unwilling to grant it.

With these two points in mind, one may directly ask whether religious institutions should discontinue cooperation with the civil recognition of their weddings or, as some put it, “get out of the civil marriage business” and—among Catholics at least—henceforth be concerned only with the sacrament of matrimony. Speaking as a Catholic, I cannot see how the Church could responsibly “get out of the civil marriage business” without failing in her duty to proclaim the truth about marriage in the secular order and matrimony in the religious.

According to well-settled—indeed, I would argue infallible—Church teaching, without marriage there is no matrimony. Christ did not invent a new way for people to live together and then bestow upon it the term “matrimony”; rather, he restored marriage to its original plan and raised it, for the baptized, to the level of a sacrament. Thus, while natural marriage can exist without it being sacramental matrimony—and for most of the world, this is how marriage is experienced—there is no such thing as sacramental matrimony that is not also natural marriage.

When the Church defends marriage, therefore, she is defending a fundamental human institution, and when she opposes the civil redefinition of marriage to include same-sex unions, it is because she knows that civil laws treating same-sex unions as marriages are—by operation of natural law and not just by Catholic doctrine—corrosive of law and right order. Add to this the fact that some Catholics enter, with the Church’s approval, not matrimony as in the sacrament, but marriage as in the natural union. This happens when a Catholic, having secured a dispensation for “disparity of cult,” marries any nonbaptized person. For the sake of these Catholics there’s a pastoral imperative for the Church to defend marriage itself, and not just the sacrament, against attempts by the state to distort it.

What good is served by religious institutions withdrawing from civil marriage? It is distressing to watch the state definition of marriage careen toward something utterly unrecognizable under natural or ecclesiastical law, but eliminating true marriages from the pool of unions treated as marriages by the state will not help us correct the state’s errors.

If the day arrives when state power is turned against ministers who refuse to perform a “gay wedding,” one must refuse cooperation with such violations of natural law and religious liberty. But that day has not arrived, and there is no need to surrender preemptively the many societal goods (such as the convenience, and even meetness) that civil recognition of religious weddings accords.

—Edward Peters is a canon lawyer and holds
the Edmund Cardinal Szoka Chair at Sacred
Heart Major Seminary in Detroit.

Ephraim Radner

The Christian Church should continue to oversee civil marriages, but only so long as she is free to choose which couples she will do this for, on the basis of her own understandings of marriage and of her witness. This, of course, has always been the case. It could change, though, since one never knows these days who is going to sue.

My main reason for saying this is simple: Marriage—the lifelong union between a man and woman for the sake of mutual support and, God permitting, the bearing and raising of children—is a universal human estate, bound to God’s creative and redemptive will. Regardless of the civil state’s views on the matter, the Church is bound to further and nurture this estate, and if the state provides the means for the Church to do this, however partial or confused, all the better.

There are, of course, profound theological truths that inform this answer. Marriage is an objective reality, independent of what any person, institution, or government says about it. This reality both founds human life and also fulfills it: The Bible begins in Genesis with a description of the original man and woman’s unitive purpose, and it ends, in Revelation, with a description of the Lamb’s marriage to the Church. Logically, the first Adam’s life set in motion in Genesis is a reflection in time of the second Adam’s nuptial purpose articulated in Revelation.

Paul affirms just this in Ephesians 5: The joining of husband and wife, in their procreative blessing, is a derivative expression of the work that Christ does in drawing the Church to himself through his own sacrifice, and in so doing drawing all creation into God’s embrace. Paul calls this a “mystery,” a profound divine truth now exposed to view. In Christ we now know that the redemptive purposes of God are at work, somehow, in the created lives of men and women as they marry and enter into the contours first laid out in Genesis. As Jesus says, “But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female. For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother [the procreative basis of human existence and its generative continuity] and be joined to his wife,and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man put asunder” (Mark 10:6–9).

Marriage of man and woman, emerging from and contributing to the procreative stream of creation, is thus the vehicle by which created history moves into God’s final purposes. It is what these purposes “look like” in human experience. All life is bound up with this historical, nuptial order: love and loss, work and refreshment, self-giving and open receipt, physical pain and joyous delight, growth and letting go. Marriage in this sense is a fact that has happened and will happen, for it is already set in motion, already moves the world.

Marriage is not the only stream of historical life gathered up into God’s final purposes, however. The marriage feast of the Lamb ultimately involves a virgin bride, and it is here that the calling to celibacy, being a eunuch for the Kingdom, comes in. But this is another, parallel story, bound as the alter ego, as it were, to nuptial life, and it requires another discussion.

The Christian Church’s calling, in part, is to move along the nuptial way, to bring others with her, to support those who have set upon the path, to bear those beaten and left beside the road towards the goal, or to lower the helpless into the presence of the Bridegroom. The Church’s nuptial ministry is thus, above all, missionary: bringing the children of Adam, along this path, to him who will join them to himself in the richest and most generative embrace of all. This mission, furthermore, is one the Church pursues along every byway and with the fullest energy possible. If the civil state is prepared to offer a means by which the Church can pursue this mission, let her seize the opportunity, so that she may at least “save some.”

—Ephraim Radner is professor of historical
theology at Wycliffe College.

Eric Teetsel

Gravity, rain, and music are some of God’s gifts to the world. Knowledge of the Creator increases the enjoyment of these gifts, but they exist for us all. Ours is a generous God!

Marriage is another of God’s gifts. It is a living symbol of God’s love for his Church, and the foundation upon which society rests. The personal and social benefits of marriage are well documented. Married men and women tend to be healthier, wealthier, and happier. They have better sex, which leads to healthy, happy children. Even couples who don’t understand the spiritual, theological, and civic significance of marriage—which is to say, most couples—benefit from it. And so do the rest of us.

Americans tacitly endorse the dual theological and civic nature of marriage by deputizing imams, pastors, rabbis, and priests to perform weddings that the state recognizes. Though various traditions maintain their own standards and prerequisites, citizens who desire to be married in a church can do so regardless of their beliefs or religious practices (or lack thereof). One pastor I talked to says he is delighted to marry couples from outside his congregation because it gives him a chance to share the Gospel with them and their entire network of family and friends.

Today marriage in America is being destroyed by a movement that seeks to fundamentally deconstruct its meaning and purpose. And it is happening fast. Given this reality, George Weigel has argued that it is time for the Church to take a dramatic step: withdraw from performing civil marriages.

If the Church were to take this step now, it would be acting prophetically: It would be challenging the state (and the culture) by underscoring that what the state means by “marriage” and what Catholics mean by “marriage” are radically different, and that what the state means by “marriage” is wrong.

Weigel’s exhortation to the Church to be a courageous witness to the true meaning and purpose of marriage is the right prescription, but the most effective way to rebuild a culture of marriage is not abandonment. The task before the Church is to rebuild a culture of marriage one couple at a time.

The question is “How?”

My wife has two sixteen-year-old siblings who are currently learning to drive. Obtaining a license in Kansas, where they live, is a complex, multi-year process involving testing and fifty hours of practice with a licensed driver. There is a reason for these rules: Driving a car poorly is a threat to society. According to the Centers for Disease Control, motor vehicle accidents are the leading cause of death for U.S. teens. Young people ages fifteen to twenty-four accounted for $31 billion in vehicle injuries in 2010. Because a reckless teenage driver has the power to wreak havoc on the lives of his fellow citizens, society restricts the privilege to those who are prepared for the responsibility.

So it should be with marriage.

Studies put the total cost of divorce, including subsidies to sustain single-parent families, education, crime, and health spending, at more than $112 billion annually. Adam Thomas and Emily Monea of the Brookings Institution found taxpayer spending on Medicaid-subsidized medical care related to unintended pregnancy alone to be $12 billion per year. By one measure, marriage drops the probability of child poverty by 82 percent, yet four in ten U.S. children today are born into a home without their father and mother.

Religious leaders in the United States should be getting more involved in rebuilding a culture of marriage, not less so. We have an opportunity to begin a marriage renaissance by ensuring that engaged couples are prepared for the responsibility ahead of them. It is time for a coalition of representatives from America’s faith traditions to collaborate on the creation of a pre-marital counseling curriculum that would cover common issues including finances, conflict resolution, and sex. These nonsectarian classes could be offered regularly at churches, mosques, temples, and community centers nationwide. Religious leaders should politely decline to marry any couple who has not completed the course, or an equivalent.

The same-sex marriage movement is a symptom of the breakdown of marriage, not the cause. The Church has the conviction and authority to rebuild the most basic and important institution of society. And so it should.

—Eric Teetsel is director of the
Manhattan Declaration.

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