Friday, January 8, 2010

Lutheran Marriage--Expanding on Comments Made on Another Blog

For those interested, I left a lengthy comment concerning Martin Luther's views about marriage on polycarp's blog, "The Church of Jesus Christ," in response to a blog post considering whether the government should stay out of the marriage business.

Luther, for those unfamiliar with his thought on this matter, would have likely found this to be the entirely wrong question. For him, the regulation of marriage was properly a civil matter, and it was the church that should stay out of the marriage business--except as witness and support to the married couple. As far as the establishment of a marriage goes, Luther thought that this was done by the married couple, not by the church or by the state. This is the point I make (although in greater detail) on ploycarp's blog.

So--let individuals marry (which happens when they make a commitment to one another to be spouses); let the state regulate those marriages in a manner consistent with the natural rights of persons and the interests of a well-ordered society; and let the church witness, celebrate, and support the marital unions that individuals make with one another.

This "division of labor" in the marriage business does not by itself resolve the disputes about marriage--concerning, for example, how wide the divorce escape hatch should be, whether same-sex couples should have the right to marry, etc. To settle these matters, we need a fuller understanding of the rights of individuals with respect to the creation (and dissolution) of marital bonds--their scope and limits.

But that it is a matter of individual rights on the Lutheran view is very important. Marriage is not an institution of the church or of the state but a matter of individual rights--rights which impose moral constraints on what both church and state may legitimately do in relation to marriage.

And this means that, for example, the question of same-sex marriage must be settled by asking whether same sex couples have the right to establish a marital commitment with one another. If they do, then the state has a moral responsibility to include them within the legal regulative structures of civil marriage. If they do, then churches are morally in the wrong when they discriminate against same-sex couples by refusing to celebrate and support the bonds they have forged, even though they routinely celebrate and support those forged by heterosexual partners.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Eric,

    Please excuse me while I have trouble following your logic in this post. Perhaps you can clarify my following questions to you.

    According to your view, how do we determine if same sex couples have the right to marry? (What is the criteria for this determination?)

    And must rights supported by civil government always be the same rights supported by the church, and vice versa?