I would never have thought it possible, but I agree with the Episcopal Bishop of Washington, John Chane, on a matter with both religious and public policy elements. Chane thinks it’s time for ministers to stop being agents of the state in connection to marriage, writing in the Washington Post‘s “On Faith” column:

The real issue here is the unfortunate duality that exists in the United States where clergy may act as both agents of the State, licensed to perform a marriage on behalf of the State and who are also charged with living into the laws and traditions of their religious traditions. They may or may not witness and bless marriage as either a sacrament of the church or a clear mandate of Christ’s teaching about marriage as delivered through the Gospels.

What the decision of the Supreme Court of California raises for me is that clergy should remove themselves as licensed agents of the state who perform marriages and who should act only as religious who witness and bless the civil contract of marriage if they choose to do so.

Preach it, brother! Chane and I come down on different sides of the gay marriage issue (he thinks it’s a matter of social justice; I think it will have the effect of undermining society’s most important institution in ways that have been empirically demonstrated in Scandinavia), but I agree with him that it’s time for ministers to stop doing the state’s business. Marriage is already a civil relationship–a license to marry is required from the state to enter into it or to dissolve it. Let the state handle that end of it, and have all couples go to a justice of the peace to deal with the civil aspect. Then, those who desire to commit their relationship to God will be free to go to a minister, priest, rabbi, imam, or whatever, and receive the ministrations of their religious community in a way that has theological integrity. The result will be a lot fewer hypocritical if not blasphemous weddings, and hopefully stronger marriages among religious believers. Now if we can just stop this California nonsense…