November 9, 2009


As you can see, I'm on the panel for this event next Sunday afternoon. I plan to speak a bit on the issue of the entanglement of church and state, which I see as a major part of the Fog (sometimes more like a Stephen King "Mist") that seems to descend on otherwise sane and sober minds when this topic comes up.

It seems evident to me that the independence of civil and religious marriage is simply a norm -- at least if one is speaking of any particular religion or state. Marriages exist in many forms in many cultures, some with religious overtones and some not, and in some cases they are mutually exclusive. That is, marriages that might be recognized in some civil societies aren't in others, and the same goes for religious marriages and religions. There is simply no "one size fits all" including perhaps most especially the "one man / one woman" model, which is just one of many forms of marriage.

The entanglement in the US is particularly troublesome, and I imagine it to be in part a by-product of our English colonial heritage. At the time of the Revolution, English Law (Lord Hardwicke's Act) required all couples to be married in the Church of England with the sole exceptions of Jews and Quakers. This law was on the books from 1753 through the middle of the 19th century, and was a scandal for Roman Catholics and Nonconformists alike, and many quite rightly said, "I'll be damned if I'm going to get married by an English Vicar!"

It is still something of a mystery to me why the US for the most part retained this vestige of the Establishment after the American Revolution, allowing clergy of whatever sect to function as civil officials. As to the French Revolution, I presume you know that that unfortunate movement led at length to a strict separation of these powers, and in many nations influenced by the Napoleonic Code one may marry in church but such marriage isn't recognized by the state unless one is also married through the civil authorities.

I am all for freedom of religion in this regard. But at this point I am increasingly irritated with the movements by Roman Catholics and Mormons in places like California and Maine to intrude their religious beliefs beyond their own membership and meddle in the lives of citizens who want nothing to do with their belief systems. Perhaps this is payback for Lord Hardwicke's Act after all. But I've had enough of this exercise of the libido dominandi -- the root of all evil in attempting to dominate others to ones own parochial views.

Opposition to same-sex marriage on any grounds is heterosexist by definition, just as opposition to mixed-race marriage on any grounds is racist. Both are irrational, and within the next quarter century, I believe more will have come to see heterosexism's intellectual impoverishment and moral bankruptcy, as we have with racism.

Tobias Stanislas Haller


Fran said...

Tobias - I am glad to read about your efforts here and I only wish I could make it to Poughkeepsie for the panel. It is not really that far for me, but poor timing around here.

The whole way that marriage is wrapped up in church in this country is so wrong. In fact, I would not have even understood that until an RC priest spelled it out for me years back. What a sad mess we are in and I am deeply saddened by the efforts of my denomination to derail and decry this.

R said...

Having dealt with this question pastorally recently (the couple moved on when I required the State take care of the legal aspects of the marriage), I have a hunch this entanglement lasted simply as a matter of convenience for the State and for couples. Revolution is meant to solve problems for the populace, and at the time, the church acting as the State's agent in marriage wasn't one of them.

But how I agree it creates a theological - and now a civil and ecclesiastical mess!

Best wishes and good prayers for the forum... We're all watching with anticipation!

Marshall said...

For some reason, I had thought Lord Hardwicke's Act was passed to provide revenue to English parishes without having to raise the relevant taxes. There were, after all, fees involved in the legal parish wedding. That would explain why post-colonial parishes - and more to the point, post-colonial legislatures - might let the practice continue. When have either just let go of a source of income?

Anonymous said...

Do you think it possible that, just as we will soon come to see the "intellectual impoverishment and moral bankruptcy" of opposition to same-sex marriage, we may also come to see opposition to polyamory in the same light? Isn't it possible that polyamorous relationships can be holy and reasonable, too? And if so, shouldn't the church be prepared to bless them?

The Gay Scientist

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

Thanks, Fran. Not the best timing for me, either, as I have to hustle to get to Poughkeepsie on time.

R., I do think it probably was a matter of habit and convenience; I will have to look into the early history in Pennsylvania, as a Quaker foundation, they didn't have to contend with Lord Hardwicke. I'm sure Howard, in History of Matrimonial Institutions, must take note of such things.

Marshall, money may have been at play, though from my reading that was not the primary thinking in Lord H's Act, which was apparently more a concern about clandestinity -- with a deliberate slap at "Papists" intended, too. But the $$ side of things may have made it go down easier for the Vicars collecting "the customary duty"...

G.S., on the contrary I think there are quite sound rational arguments addressing potential and actual weaknesses and issues in polyamorous relationships, and I take that up at some length in Reasonable and Holy. Which is not to say I believe it absolutely impossible for such relationships to be capable of blessing and being blessed -- witness the patriarchs -- but even there the difficulties inherent in maintaining balance and reciprocity are evident. I think it unlikely, though, that the church will come to accept polyamory any time soon, if ever. At the same time, the church has come to accommodate blessing second marriages of divorced couples, so I suppose anything is possible. As to civil society, some jurisdictions in the world still permit polygamy for certain religious groups, though not, I think, in the U.S.

Anonymous said...

Tobias wrote: " ... I suppose anything is possible."

Oh my, you sure don't want to be quoted as saying that out there in Internet-land! The places we could go with such an admission could get us into ... well, let's just say, into places that are interesting!

And since when is sexuality "sound and rational"? And isn't the project of trying to make it so one of binding our sexuality into the straitjacket of traditional heterosexual norms and expectations? And isn't that a project which makes us complicit in the very oppression which has reduced us to second or even third-class "citizens" in the church? Why should we put up with that? Why in the world would we buy into the oppression of "monogamy" when that's used so freely to slam the door in our faces?

The Gay Scientist

Tobias Stanislas Haller said...

G.S., I am willing to be quoted, and remain open to discussion and exploration of ideas. That doesn't mean that after exploration I might not find that a "traditional" answer is the right one after all; but I am not automatically bound by the tradition.

I did not mean to imply that "sexuality" is sound and rational. I'm referring to moral theology, which is at least as "rational" as psychology and biology, and perhaps physics and mathematics, in that it is a system of thought that is capable of expression in logical form, and deals with the data of life as it is actually lived.

I am not saying that all people need be bound to a particular moral virtue, such as monogamy. What I am saying is that some people find monogamy to be a way of virtue, and that some of those are gay and some strait. I'm not suggesting that all people have to be monogamous -- as I noted, our own faith tradition includes those polygamous patriarchs who were not seen as less than righteous on account of polygamy.

More specifically, I do not think that monogamy has been the primary tool of societal oppression / marginalization of GL people. (Witness polygamous Islam's or Mormonism's strongly anti-gay ethic.) So I don't accept your thesis except to the extent that when homosexuality is perceived or presented as "essentially" (as opposed to circumstantially) promiscuous it bumps up against an ideal of monogamy. But the fact is that the ideal of monogamy is not all that well observed in the heterosexual world, and as an ideal is used as much against polyamory among heterosexuals.

I think that there are values to monogamy, but it is not for me to force anyone or everyone to accept those values. But provision should be made for those who do wish to accept that value (a value which I think can be objectively and rationally described), particularly in the civil realm. And for me that includes both gays and straits.

IT said...

Speaking as someone who is actually a Gay Scientist myself, let me completely disagree with the person posting under that name. It's the slippery slope argument, and it is a rhetorical straw man. And in this venue, verges on the trollish.