My view: Religious marriage separate from government

By Len Woolley

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, June 19 2014 8:23 a.m. MDT

In order to protect religious beliefs and ordinances such as marriage, it is imperative that marriage be clearly separated from government. This simple re-imagining of such obligation could provide a solution to the conflict over same-sex marriage.

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For thousands of years, marriage has been defined by religious culture and has been practiced functionally as a religious contract between man, woman and God. Marriage has never been a government granted right, but a God-given commandment that has often been used, or abused, by government.

Cultural marriage practices go back millennia. Reviewing the biblical account of marriage and its purposes, we find God defining marriage for His followers in the Hebrew Bible, as well as for Christian followers whose lives are documented in the New Testament. These groups have believed that marriage is a spiritual contract between a man, a woman and God, and that this contract is part of an eternal process.

Followers of the scriptures believe that the principles of marriage and family are divine in origin and not merely human institutions. The implication of this belief is significant: humans are not free to renegotiate or redefine marriage and the family.

For nearly 4,000 years another ancient religion, Hinduism, has continuously taught the principles of monogamous marriage as the foundation of the family. Again, these historical religious concepts predate government influence.

Yet today, religion is being attacked by the secular world. Living in a nation built upon religious principles, we must choose loyalty to God and country or loyalty to the trends of a secular world.

Religions understand this truth and focus on primary principles of marriage, family and teaching right ways of living, such as following the Ten Commandments. The Judeo-Christian ethic that undergirds our national civic culture also teaches us that all of us are children of God of great value and should never be abandoned, ignored or left unloved or uncared for.

Organized governments, nations and empires, recognizing the strength and power of marriage and the family, have regularly used the practice of marriage to establish political, economic and power alliances.

By shanghaiing the title of marriage to rename its civil unions, governments attempt to make themselves the replacement of God and religion in society. Government civil unions, renamed marriages, are its artificial alternatives for religious marriages. They convey less reverence toward marriage.

Does government have the right to co-opt and change religious traditions and practices? No. To enforce changes in marriage, including efforts to impose same-sex marriage on a state, is an attempt to change basic religious doctrines and beliefs and replace them with contrary civil and secular teachings.

Government civil unions, even if called by the name of “civil marriages,” are not marriages but a parallel legal arrangement. Such unions can provide civil protections of safety, health and welfare, as in properties in common, revenue-sharing, health and life insurance protection, plus emotional, personal and life support actions. Religion’s spirituality cannot be offered up by a civil authority: government is not equipped for, or able to provide, such spirituality.

However, the government has the right to set the rules of civil unions. It should not be difficult to insure that civil protections are in place for every citizen, including same-sex couples. Then, if desired, religions may be authorized to perform either religious marriages or government civil unions. Government officials should only be authorized to perform civil unions.

There are millions of religious Americans that believe and understand that their marriages were established, authorized and ordained by God and that His authority goes far beyond that of any secular government. Maintaining separation between religious marriage and government civil unions is essential. This separation protects religion without denying civil rights and the protections of law to anyone.

As Jesus Christ is quoted as saying in Matthew 22:21, “Render therefore unto Cæsar the things which are Cæsar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

Religious doctrines and ordinances that are enacted as contracts between God and imperfect human beings can not be civilly negotiated. In order to protect religious beliefs and ordinances such as marriage, it is imperative that marriage be clearly separated from government. This simple re-imagining of such obligation could provide a solution to the conflict over same-sex marriage.

Len Woolley is a retired economic development official who has worked in Box Elder County, Utah, and with the Wyoming Business Council.

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