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Ending the Marriage License in America

The trajectory toward redefining marriage from between one man and one woman has taken many Christians by surprise. From 1973 when Maryland passed the Family Law Code with the language, “Only a marriage between a man and a woman is valid in this State” to the recent US Supreme court ruling of Obergefell v. Hodges striking down state gay-marriage bans, it seems in less than one generation the historical understanding of marriage from creation to the present has been turned on its head.

As a consolation, the Supreme Court majority opinion stated that, “Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned.” But with the imprisonment of the county clerk of Rowan county Kentucky, Kim Davis it has been shown that the intent of this language is to only afford a mental assent to Christian principals, and not allowing them to be acted upon in the daily life and duties of the Christian in obedience to God.

Some are saying that in the case of Kim Davis her oath of office which reads in part, “I will faithfully execute, to the best of my ability, the office of county clerk according to law…so help me God” compels her to set aside her Christian principals and execute man’s law. However, as we learn from scripture when Daniel, an officer of the government, was faced with a choice between obedience between man’s law or God’s, choose the only correct choice (Daniel 6:1-28).

(For a more full discussion on the duty of Christian government officials go here for an article by The American Vision.)

The Road We Took

In part, the reason we have arrived at this cross roads was due to the Church surrendering its authority to man’s government. This was done at a time when the line between Church and State was grayer than it is in our age; beginning in the Middle-Ages. This is when the idea that the state had an authority to issue licenses for marriage began to develop. In America, one of the earliest jurisdictions to require marriage licenses was Massachusetts beginning in 1639. The idea gradually spread until today every state and county has laws requiring licenses with some variations. At different times in history, marriage licenses have been used to restrict marriage by the state, as it was with interracial marriage. Today, the government uses it to redefine marriage as between same-sex as well as traditional couples.

Death Through Marriage Licenses

The problem lies in the fact that by allowing the government to determine the qualifications of marriage, it has removed the Church from its responsibility in regulating its application. It is clear from Matthew 19:16, “What God has joined together, let man not separate” that the foundation of marriage is based in God’s definition. Furthermore Genesis 2:22-24 and Matthew 19:4-5 continue to illustrate this point. Guidance in marriage is expected by the Church as demonstrated in 2 Corinthians 6:14-15 and in divorce; shown in Matthew 19:9 and 1 Corinthians 7:15. Marriage is also designed by God to symbolize the relationship between Christ and the Church as we see in Ephesians 5:25-32. I say all of this to drive home the point that marriage is a creation of God with a greater purpose. It is a precious institution and one that is Christian at its core. Therefore, why would we as Christian hand over the keys of marriage to the state?

Taking Back the Definition of Marriage

Is it time we ended the practice of state marriage licenses? What business does the state have in a Christian ceremony of marriage? What few realize is that state control over marriage has developed to a point where most, if not all, states have laws establishing who has the authority to marry. In fact, punishment of a $500 fine or a year in prison is typical for anyone, including a Pastor, who marries a couple without proper approval of the state in the form of a marriage license. The idea of state controlled marriage is now ingrained into the minds of most Americans. Despite this, the Church needs to turn the conversation from what is considered a legal marriage by the state and to what constitutes a legal marriage before God. And perhaps the idea of a marriage license needs to be removed from the Christian lexicon and a more biblical view of marriage authority developed. The question is…when will we begin to act?