Wednesday, March 30, 2016

Forcing Pastors to Conduct Gay Weddings?

I have been struck by the persistent fear that pastors might be forced to conduct weddings for LGBT couples even when opposed on religious grounds.  It keeps popping up on the Internet and in casual conversation, often from unexpected sources such as people who ought to know better.  

There are very few circumstances under which a pastor, regardless of denomination, can be forced by the state to do anything regarding the way he or she manages his or her religious practices.  Marriage in my denomination is considered a sacrament, and the conditions under which weddings are performed are a function of canon law and their interpretation by the diocesan bishop.  In any case, no priest can be compelled to officiate at any wedding.  Period.  It doesn’t have anything to do with the LGBT issue.

So might there be exceptions?  I recall a long ago friend from another denomination who was nicknamed Marry’n Marvin because he would officiate at any wedding anywhere, and his Saturdays were fully booked during the spring and early summer.  In a sense, he was in the business of providing a public service to anyone who wanted to pay for it.  Like the notorious wedding cake baker, he may have given up his right to include or exclude because he had become a seller of a public service.  

Here’s another.  There are churches that rent out the hall and their clergy for weddings, and wedding reenactments, with few questions asked.  No need to be a member of the parish, of the denomination, or even of the religion.  Weddings are a profit center with their own line item in the budget.  It seems to me that they also have given up their right to object on religious grounds.  They run a commercial enterprise just like the local diner or gas station.  

As for me, I’m not keen on the idea of clergy acting as agents of the state for any reason.   Persons are not required by the state to get a license to be baptized, receive Holy Communion, make confession, ask for anointing, or be present at their own funeral.   Clergy are not obliged to act as agents of the state by signing certificates attesting to each person’s reception of the sacraments.  Why marriage?  As far as the state is concerned, marriage is a legal contract defined by statute.  Religion is irrelevant.  Let the appropriate elected official do the certifying. 

Of course there were practical reasons for the way we do it now.  Married people have certain rights and responsibilities under the law that others do not.  Someone had to be responsible for certifying that couples were legally married in order for them to enjoy those rights and responsibilities.  Local judges and ministers were the obvious candidates because they were available and reliable (mostly).  That was then.  It’s time for a change.  Leave clergy out of it unless, like Marvin, they go into the business as a commercial enterprise.  Then license them as state agents.

There would have to be some cultural adjustments.  Couples would have to do whatever the state required of them at the local courthouse or licensed wedding emporium.   Those who desire to enter into the sacrament of holy matrimony would then go to their local church for the usual routine of premarital counseling in preparation for all the delight of a church wedding, but the state would not have anything to do with it. 

Oh, and by the way, would I officiate at an LGBT wedding?  It depends.  Are you Episcopalian?  Are you an active member of a parish?  Are you willing to endure six hours of premarital counseling?  Do you fully understand what the covenant of holy matrimony is about, and are willing to live into it?  If so, I would be delighted.

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