Though we live in Chicago, Rachel and I were married on an island an hour outside of Seattle. Presumably to impose a cooling off period, the State of Washington requires that you procure a marriage license from the county clerk 72 hours prior to your wedding. Since we flew into Seattle over the weekend and said our vows on a Tuesday, there was a brief concern that we wouldn’t be legally married until several days after the ceremony.
This raised an interesting question: if we declare our commitment before God in a ceremony officiated by an ordained minister and witnessed by fellow believers in Christ, but our marriage is not yet recognized by the State due to a legal formality, are we committing sin by having sex on our wedding night?
I lost exactly no sleep over it, because our marriage is between us and God, not the State.
“Marriage” is a homonym. There are two kinds of marriage: one is an institution of God, the other an institution of the State. They share a name and bear many similarities, but they are not the same.
God’s marriage is a lifelong covenant, an oath intended to be so unbreakable that the Bible says “they shall become one flesh.” The State’s marriage is a legal contract conferring certain benefits and privileges which either party can terminate at roughly anytime.
Most of the debate over gay marriage is caused by Christians thinking that we’re talking about the same thing when we’re not. The gay community isn’t barging into churches and forcing pastors to give God’s blessing. They’re not asking Christians to renounce their belief that God intends marriage to be between a man and a woman. For the most part, when we’re not trying to tell them what they can and cannot do, they don’t care about our beliefs regarding God – though maybe if we were nicer about it, they might.
As Christians, it’s okay to believe in something without forcing it into law.
2 Corinthians 6 says, “Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers,” which means “If you believe in Jesus, don’t marry someone who doesn’t.” If you can get past the knee-jerk reaction to the exclusivity of it, this is a solid suggestion. If you’re not a follower of Christ, some of the ideas I believe are going to sound crazy. If I’m sincere about the implications of my belief, some of the things I do are going to look crazy. If you’re not the same kind of crazy, you and I are in for a world of hurt if we hitch our wagons together for the long haul.
I don’t think Christians should marry non-Christians, but I don’t think it should be illegal.
In Matthew 19 Jesus says, “whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.” Unless you advocate banning divorce with the same ferocity with which you oppose gay marriage, you have no credibility. If you malign one political leader for supporting gay marriage, but vote for another “living in sin” with his second, third, or fourth wife, you are a hypocrite.
It’s a beautiful thing when two people say “No escape hatches. We’re going to get through this no matter what.” But Kim Kardashian didn’t defile the sanctity of my marriage when she got divorced after 72 days.
Maybe the two institutions never should have had the same name. Maybe we should have called the legal institution a “civil union” from the start so we didn’t get confused about whose authority was doing the joining. But that ship has sailed, and it will be forever impossible for gay couples to enjoy the same legal benefits as married couples without the title of “Married.”
We can give them that. We can give them the recognition that is to us a mere legal formality without making any claims about our covenant with God.
Photo by Real Good Studio