Civil Unions For Everybody or Nobody?
Grab a coffee. It will take you 6 minutes to read this post.
Exactly one month from yesterday, I’ll be taking my vows to marry the hottest Peruvian this country has ever produced. OK, that’s not entirely true. Our religious ceremony will take place on Saturday, May 11th exactly one month from yesterday. Our civil ceremony, the only one the governments of Peru and Canada will actually care about, will be sometime in the days prior.
Which leads to the lack of updates for this blog in a little while. I’ve been busier than a one-legged man at a butt kicking contest (kudos to Joshua Andrew for that line) thanks to wedding planning and our Oikos ministry school having started this past Monday, in which I’m one of the teachers.
In this culture couples have two different weddings, one civil and one religious or in some other setting. Suffice it to say, the civil one is the one the government recognizes and for which we need the most paperwork. We began this process months ago to make sure everything would be in place without having to stress out in the last weeks leading up to the wedding. Despite our best efforts that seems to be what’s happening anyway through no fault of laziness or procrastination on our part, but just simply how long things take.
Which is More Important — The Religious Ceremony or the Civil Union?
Back in February I met with Mirko, our ministry’s immigration lawyer who perpetually makes sure everything’s alright with our visas as well as those of many other missionaries in Peru. He contacts us when things need to be renewed or some problem comes up. I asked him many questions about what a gringo like me needs to do under these circumstances. I was concerned about how long things were taking and if it would really matter if we had our civil ceremony later instead of sooner. Besides, nobody has really made clear to me which ceremony “counts” and when we’re legally allowed to finally have sex without it being considered sinful. Since we were getting married in the eyes of God and not the government, why not prioritize our union before God more than our union before kings and rulers of the land?
To that question, Mirko told me something that I thought was quite peculiar, but made perfect sense.
“Steve, you may find a pastor or priest who won’t perform your religious ceremony if you don’t have the document from your civil ceremony.”
Peru is a very catholic culture with evangelicalism exploding in the last decade here. Needless to say some people would be offended if we were not really married in the government’s eyes. In some western cultures, the officiator of the ceremony can be a pastor but in order for his officiating to be legit, he needs to be ordained or have permission from the state. The civil and religious ceremony are combined into one wedding as a result. The laws vary from province to province in Canada and state to state in the USA.
So I can see why Christians in the United States in particular are trying to stop what they view as a threat on their faith institutions. I understand that if marriage between homosexuals is a sin in the Church’s eyes, based on the sacred texts we use, that the pastors who perform weddings would not want to perform such ceremonies in their houses of worship that they don’t believe truly are weddings. But that all being beside the point, I understood then why, for me, neglecting a civil ceremony is not an option and something we’re going to need to make sure to be adequately prepared for in addition to our religious ceremony.
Get The Government Out of The Marriage Business?
As the weeks and months dragged on, fees for various things piled up and the delay in various things increased, I turned to Lili one time and said “To heck with it! Let’s just have a religious ceremony! Who cares if our governments don’t consider us “legitimately” married?”
The whole distinction between what is a civil ceremony and a religiously officiated wedding, and the experience I’ve had to go through has educated me and opened my eyes a little bit. If I could have a religious ceremony before God, and not a civil union that the government recognizes, and be happy with it, then why couldn’t somebody have just a civil union, and not a religious union? I mean, granted there will always be extreme militant GLBT groups who will sue churches or companies if they don’t want to perform gay weddings. But if there was a genuine separation made church and state, and the religious rights were protected so those houses of worship could perform ceremonies and rituals according to their faith traditions and not have to be forced to do anything outside of their convictions and religious rights, what would it matter if gay people in this culture wanted to have government recognized unions?
On the flip side of that coin; for those embattled in a ‘culture war’, does it really affect us and our religious liberties that much if the church and government separated their involvement in weddings and the government performed or permitted only civil unions and the church could have the permission and right to perform ceremonies, such as marriage, according to their sacred texts without having the state impose rules on them as to who they could marry and hire? If there was such a system in place, would that solve or create more problems?
I don’t know what this would look like, nor do I admit to having formed all my own thoughts on it, lest a reader misinterprets this blog post as an approval of gay marriage, which I expect someone will do if they skimmed this without reading it carefully. But on the same hand, as a Christian I’m quite loath to impose legislation on society to conform it to a certain set of expectations and norms and then be surprised that they fight back. I don’t want to turn this blog post into a “can’t we all get along” post about living and letting live. I just wonder if as a church body we’re fighting a pointless battle with this? If religious institutions didn’t have the power to perform weddings that were sanctioned by the government, would we fight so much to stop people we don’t think are worthy of being married from doing so?
If the Church were the only force in society that could perform weddings and grant marriage licenses, then I probably would still ask questions like this. Are there any gay couples suing mosques that don’t want to perform their weddings?
We’re Not of This World — So Why Try to Legislate It?
This could open up a can of worms, which is not specifically my intention in posting this, but, if we’re not of this world but just passing through it and our eternal abode is more important, why are we spending so much time entrenched in battles about what the sinners can and can’t do in our land?
About Steve Bremner
Steve Bremner is a Canadian missionary to Peru, who is called to raise up disciples who flow in the power of the Holy Spirit within a missional community named Oikos. If you like Steve's blog, you'll also like his Kindle books. Note: this post may have contained affiliate links of which the author receives a small commission if you purchase something recommended in the post.