Time to rethink how the Church officiates marriages
Back in 2003, when there was the debate in the province of Ontario, I wrote a letter that was published in a newspaper on the issue of marriage and supporting traditional marriage in the ongoing debate at the time concerning the possibilities of same sex marriage in Canada. I was chastised my my denomination for my stand and was told that the denomination as well as other Evangelical denominations were going to wait to hear on the decision of the Supreme Court, and until then it was “business as usual”. When I was told this, my response to the denomination was,“If we wait for the Supreme Court to act, we have already lost the fight, and we will have everything changed before we can respond appropriately. We need to be proactive and engage right away.” That did not go well. I was silenced, and we know what happened. We ended up with the Church having no voice or say in the national debate on same sex marriage in Canada. We lost our opportunity at the time.
In 2003 I had called for a total and complete boycott of all marriages, in every province and territory in Canada, with a coalition from every faith community and religion represented that opposed same sex marriage. That coalition never materialized, as my own “tribe”, my own Evangelical brethren did not have the stomach for it or the will or resolve to do what was required at the time.
All this caused me to rethink again the whole issue of the relationship of the Church to the state, and the role of the clergy in officiating marriages in Canada.
Acting as an agent of the state
In Canada, each province and territory is responsible to administer the federal Civil Marriage Act in their own provincial laws and jurisdiction and implement them. In Ontario, for a marriage to be legally officiated under its laws and statutes, every marriage officiated, be it through a Justice of the Peace, a Judge, or an ordained clergy person, must have the wording, “in accordance to the laws and statutes of the Province of Ontario” spoken aloud as part of the ceremony, or it is not an officially recognized marriage. As an ordained minister, every marriage I officiated here in Ontario, had to have those words spoken, or the marriage was not considered an official marriage. The marriage certificate had to be signed, and witnessed and had to be sent in the mail by the minister officiating the marriage to the provincial ministry, and upon receipt, the married couple would receive an official marriage certificate from the province. So, in the end the officiating minister acts as an unofficial agent of the state whenever and wherever a marriage is officiated in a Christian marriage in the Province of Ontario.
It is time to stop officiating marriages on behalf of the state
I want to make the case for an end to clergy of all Christian churches and other religious communities, to cease acting as agents of the state. I would prefer to see a complete and total end of this administrative function on behalf of the state, and see it become a completely civil administration. I would like to see it all be as in registering a birth of a child, or other legal contracts and agreements that are administered and are agreed upon through Justices of the Peace. In effect what the marriage equality laws have done is change the very fiber and essence of what a marriage covenant has historically been. As such I believe that now is the time for the Church to divest itself from acting as an agent of the state.
Move from officiating to blessing biblical marriages
I would prefer to see the Church ratify those marriages that it views to be a biblical marriage. Like the Church in many areas of Western Europe, couples who want to marry get married through a civil ceremony such as going before a Justice and making their marriage vows under oath, sign the register, and are declared married. Then that same couple, if they meet the criteria of Christian marriage according to their Christian denomination, then they can have a Christian blessing of the marriage, and a celebration, much like we have after marriages currently. This would remove any conflict that the clergy person may have in officiating a marriage. The blessing of a marriage would still reflect the teaching of the Church in blessing those unions they believe to be biblical unions.
Time to be proactive and lead in social change
I believe that now is the time for the Church to do this, and to initiate the process with the state, to “get out of the marriage business”. At the same time I would call on the state to open up the qualifications of who could officiate marriages, and not limit the people to justices of the peace, judges or clergy, but rather allow any citizen in good standing, to purchase a license for acting as an agent of the Crown in officiating a marriage. Why should citizens be excluded and limited from the full participation in rites of passage like performing a marriage? You could pay a fee to officiate the marriage and register the marriage with the province. It seems like a good solution to me in a multicultural secular society. It would respect everyone’s beliefs and allow for differences to be respected.
Canadian Bar Association – Marriage Act – https://www.cba.org/cba/submissions/pdf/05-24-02-eng.pdf
Bill C-38 Civil Marriage Act – http://www.parl.gc.ca/About/Parliament/LegislativeSummaries/bills_ls.asp?ls=c38&Parl=38&Ses=1
Civil Marriage Act (Online) – http://www.canlii.org/en/ca/laws/stat/sc-2005-c-33/latest/sc-2005-c-33.html
Civil Marriage Act (Wikipedia) – https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Civil_Marriage_Act
Marriage Act (Province of Ontario) – http://www.ontario.ca/laws/statute/90m03
Canadian Justice Laws Website – Marriage – http://laws-lois.justice.gc.ca/eng/acts/C-31.5/
Same Sex Marriage Backgrounder – http://www.lawconnection.ca/content/same-sex-marriage-backgrounder
Same Sex Marriage in Canada – http://mapleleafweb.com/features/same-sex-marriage-canada