Ryan Anderson and others (including Doug Wilson) wonder how I can support the Marriage Pledge. It asks pastors and priests to refrain from signing government provided marriage certificates, but allows and even encourages the newly wed couple to march down to the courthouse to get the government contract.

One problem posed by a “Spouse A” and “Spouse B” marriage document is this. When it’s signed immediately after a Christian wedding, the implication is that what has been done before God is the same as what the State of New York (for example) defines as marriage. This is not true, and a priest or pastor or laymen may not want to allow that implication to be drawn.

By contrast, if the day before or the day after a couple gets married in church they go to the courthouse to procure a government marriage, the significance of their action is pretty obvious. They’re entering into a merely legal contract. This action does not suggest that their Christian marriage is the same as the government marriage. It simply indicates that they find it convenient and to their mutual advantage to enter into the legal contract currently put forward by the State of New York as marriage.

When New York legalized same-sex marriage it effectively redefined marriage as a civil union. That’s bad for the common good, because the goods of true marriage contribute to human flourishing and social well-being. But it creates a legal form that Christians can use for their own purposes. The legal form is not bad in itself (though, again, it’s bad for the common good that New York no longer coordinates its laws for conjugal union to accord with the truth of marriage). On the contrary, all things considered, once the state gives up on marriage, it’s good for the state to provide a standard contract for civil unions. That’s why two people signing this standard contract at a time clearly distinct and separate from marriage shouldn’t pose a problem.

In sum: The Marriage Pledge urges priests and pastors as well as laymen to protect the truth about marriage. This means guarding against what’s entailed when a church official treats vows in a Christian marriage as effecting what governments in places like New York now define as marriage.

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