Marriage, just like christening

Timothy Kincaid

October 2nd, 2012

Marriage is a institution in the United States that has both a religious and a civil component. But it is not the only one.

Another institution that is religious in nature that also has had a civil component is christening. Though this is less evident and a less common practice, christening or baptismal documents can in many instances be presented as evidence of citizenship. Take, for example, the Florida requirements for obtaining a driver’s license. Each citizen must produce a primary document (birth certificate, naturalization papers, etc.) and a secondary document, one of which can be “Baptism certificate, which shows date of birth and the place of baptism.”

Baptismal documents are no longer a frequent proof of birth. The social security system, use of hospitals for birth, and the adoption of state birth certificates has pretty much diminished the need. But as genealogists well know, for a significant time in this country they were the primary evidence of birth and even after the incorporation of birth records, frequently fires, lost records, racial discrimination, reconfigured county lines and inconsistent record keeping would result in church records being far more thorough and reliable than municipal records. For much of our nation’s history it was these religious documents that provided evidence of citizenship. And though it is rare, some very elderly people still rely on these records as proof of birth.

Which is an interesting parallel.

Because, just like marriage, different faiths had strongly divergent baptismal beliefs and practices. Some, like Catholics and Lutherans, practice water baptism (generally a sprinkling or dripping of water) while other protestants strenuously object to baptism before the age of consent and instead will bless or dedicate a child. But in either case, the parent will receive a document recognizing the event and listing the relevant details.

Which raises the point, what if some religious advocates sought an amendment in Florida declaring that baptismal documents would be “defined” by the state to include only for such ceremonies as conformed with Catholic doctrine? And suppose their campaign was sold to the public solely in terms of “what God designed”.

I think that there is little question that a number of denominations would immediately sue to have such an initiative stricken from the ballot as being a violation of the separation of church and state. And they would win, and rightly so.

Which makes me wonder, why doesn’t the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America or the Episcopal Church or Reformed Judaism sue to have Minnesota’s discriminatory amendment stricken from the ballot? It discriminates along doctrinal lines, declaring that such marriages as are sanctioned by one church are recognized by the state while the theological practice of another church is declared to be void. And the campaign is presented purely along theological lines; their ads defend anti-gay marriage law because “it was made by God” which declares in no uncertain terms that the state of Minnesota will vote whether the beliefs about what “God made” will include the teachings of Lutherans and other liberal Christians and Jews or be excluded to just what Catholics, Mormons and other conservatives believe.

It is time for those churches who believe that the call for justice and mercy as an integral doctrine of faith compels them to defend the marriage rights of gay citizens put their faith in action. They are victims of these amendments, just as we are. They need to stand up and be strong and demand that the anti-mainline-Christianity bigotry and anti-Jewish bigotry that is all over the face of these laws cease and hold no legal standing.

Otherwise it seems to me that their beliefs about baptismal documents are more important to them than their belief in equality.


October 2nd, 2012

That would have been a good idea back when the amendment was placed on the ballot. It would be a good idea for the next go round, wherever and whenever that may be. But it’s too close to the election now.


October 2nd, 2012

While I’m sympathetic with the idea, I doubt it would go anywhere. If it had a chance of success the FLDS and Muslims would be filing petitions in court that their First Amendment rights are being violated since polygamous marriages are not also recognized. I prefer to keep emphasizing the argument that religious and civil marriage are not the same thing and avoid that whole sticky mess.


October 2nd, 2012

The difference is that there is no legal effect at all in a church marriage per se.

In the churches you mention, the priest signs the document – which then goes to City Hall to be recorded. If the second thing doesn’t happen, the first thing doesn’t matter.

Nothing similar happens (or ever has, to my knowledge) with baptismal certificates.


October 2nd, 2012

I can’t attest for Episcopalians, but Lutherans don’t consider marriage to be a church rite. It’s something the state does that we choose to bless. After all, non-Christians are perfectly capable of being legally married. (You wouldn’t guess it by how some Lutherans trumpet the God-created-marriage line, though.)

This is why some ELCA churches also choose to bless commitments between same-sex couples when marriage is not available to them. Lutherans don’t marry people, but we (yes, I’m ELCA Lutheran) do ask for God’s blessing on their relationship. Obviously the amendment in Minnesota is abominable, but it doesn’t infringe on our rights to perform blessings.

Baptism and holy communion are sacraments, though. They’re something the church does and *not* the state.


October 2nd, 2012

I’m not the only ELCA Lutheran!! Did your synod (sorry, missionaria) lose any churches after the sexual orientation vote? True though, I’m pretty sure my pastor would bless a same-sex marriage, but our state bans them.

Timothy Kincaid

October 2nd, 2012


Thanks for the clarification. But I’ll still nag the Episcopalians and UCC leaders.

There’s a lawsuit here somewhere, even if it’s just a nondenominational church.

When the state – FOR RELIGIOUS REASONS – honors the rites of one church and not another, it is a clear violation of the prohibition on establishment.


October 2nd, 2012

It won’t do you any good to nag Episcopalians, I should point out, who don’t have same-sex marriage rites, either.

But even if they did, I must repeat: what happens in the church is a religious rite; it has no legal effect until the state approves it. This is as true for Catholics as it is for Baptists as it is for Episcopalians.

First cousins can’t marry in some states, either – and it wouldn’t make the slightest bit of difference whether their church married them or not.

You’re really barking up the wrong tree here.


October 2nd, 2012

The reason, BTW, that Baptismal certificates are acceptable as secondary documents is because they include the person’s place of birth. They are one of the “early public records” mentioned on this site, along with:

Baptismal certificate
Hospital birth certificate
Census record
Early school record
Family bible record
Doctor’s record of post-natal care

It’s really got nothing to do with religion….

Timothy Kincaid

October 2nd, 2012


I appreciate your opinion.

But if the public votes to take a position on “what God made” and that aligns with one faith group and not another, then my opinion is that the disadvantaged religious group has a legal case.

And, even if it didn’t prevail, even if the courts said that the public could recognize one church’s rites as being consistent with “what God made” and another church’s rites as not, I think that the resultant publicity would awaken people to the recognition that what they are doing is not protecting faith but selecting between faiths.


October 2nd, 2012

Churches don’t make laws; they follow them. On the flip side, the state is not bound to act according to the particular beliefs of any particular religious group; that would be “the establishment of religion.”

The church, in the marriage rite, is performing its own internal hocus-pocus; the state allows it to do so. It humors the various churches in this way – but they all have to cough up the marriage certificate for approval at the end of the day.

The state doesn’t allow Catholics to decide whether divorced people can legally remarry or not – and it won’t (and shouldn’t) allow Episcopalians to force it to marry gay people. The Episcopal Church is in no way “disadvantaged” by this; it has not been harm, materially or otherwise. (This would be like the captain of ship, having married two people ineligible to be married, claiming “disadvantage” once the marriage is voided.)

I have no idea what you mean when you say “what God made”; didn’t you just invent that as a rhetorical device for the purpose of this post? In any case: who would you be suing? The public? Well, the public is allowed to vote any way it likes, for whatever reasons it likes.

Anyway, I’m pretty sure that most people vote against gay marriage because they just don’t really like the whole idea, or because they don’t like gay people. Religion is certainly a good excuse, though.


October 2nd, 2012


It’s an interesting angle. The problem is that these laws in no way mention churches or religion. Their ARGUMENTS do, but not the laws/amendments themselves.

While the Antis (intentionally) conflate civil and religious marriage all the time in their rhetoric, the laws say that the STATE will only recognize marriage between one man and one woman. They trust that their minions can’t separate the concepts in their head, but they really only care about Civil marriage–the same as we do.


October 3rd, 2012

I’m living abroad now, but I was in Central Synod (Kansas and Missouri) at the time of the decision, and yes, we lost churches. My congregation lost members, but only a few, which is much better than we’d expected. As to whether my (former) pastor would preside over a same-sex marriage, probably, yes. He was part of SeminEx and wound up taking a missionary run in Papua New Guinea when he couldn’t find a church. A decade of dealing with polygamists and intersex individuals who weren’t “fixed” has given him a pretty open mind.

(I apologize to all non-Lutherans who have no idea what we’re talking about)


October 3rd, 2012

I figured we’d lose churches (I’m in the Northern Texas Northern Louisiana Synod) We lost half a church but that was it. I’m pretty impressed with your pastor though. Mine is straight out out of seminary.
(I also apologize, but it isn’t often I hear from a like minded Lutheran from another Synod!)


October 3rd, 2012

Psst… It’s “Reform Judaism,” not “Reformed Judaism.” The distinction is not trivial, and the error is downright offensive.

Regan DuCasse

October 3rd, 2012

Not that I’m surprised, but this article and the following comments are so much more intelligent and informed than the same on firmly anti gay sites. Even those same people whose claims of religious reasons for hating gay people aren’t capable of making comments like these. In fact, there is a great deal of superficiality in the comments and eventually there are NONE that can identify and individual. They stop speaking as such, and use quotes from the Bible to lodge an opinion instead.

This is one of the reasons ex gays never seem to be INDIVIDUALS with differing experiences, or personalities.
The Bible, is a song that remains the same. If one keeps singing it, without saying anything ELSE of substance, originality isn’t there at all.

That’s how certain people of faith begin to strike me as very, very weird. And sometimes, not especially smart. And why after a while, it’s like dealing with someone who is brain damaged.

Timothy Kincaid

October 3rd, 2012


Thank you, I removed the “ed”.


In the Perry case, the whole issue was driven not by the language of Prop 8 but by the intent and language of the campaign materials.

Jim Hlavac

October 3rd, 2012

I have long maintained that gay folks religious rights under the 1st Amendment are being trampled and denied. I don’t care about the doctrinal issues of one church or another, or their convergences or disagreements. There are 1400 or so denominations of Christians alone in this nation; you need a score card.

Meanwhile, our right to believe our God says we’re OK is being denied; our Creator did give us certain inalienable rights. Our clergy are not allowed to have the weddings they bless recognized. Gay folk’s right to be free from gov’t interference in our religious beliefs are nil. And the gov’t establishes other religion’s views against us into law. That’s the short list.

And yet, these things seemingly are never mentioned in any of the lawsuits I see about gay marriage, or gay anything, really. It’s almost as if lawyers for us are afraid to claim we have religion; not to mention that society, in general, simply believes we are non-religious, or even anti-religious, and so can’t use the religion argument at all. None of which is true. Call us pagans for all I care, or apostates, heretics, whatever, but even they can get their marriages recognized by the gov’t.

Reed B

October 3rd, 2012

Thanks for this pleasant reminder of the seven years I worked as a church secretary. We DID have requests for baptismal records – and my own supplemented my “proof of live birth” (which is NOT a “birth certificate, but it’s what my generation of Air Force brats were issueed) a couple of decades ago.

And then came WHAT IF – and I realized TK had once again picked up the big spoon to stir some . . .thingie . . . and stoppped reading, free from hypothetical wrangling.

Reed B

October 3rd, 2012

Four of those “church secretary” years (see post above this one) were for ELCA congregations at the time when Egertson ordained Anita C. Hill.

Timothy Kincaid

October 3rd, 2012


So if I read you correctly, you quite object to the latter portion of my commentary. You didn’t read it, but you object to it anyway. Well, I guess that’s your right.

On another note, I am very much enjoying the conversation between the ECLA (current and former) members and their wondering whether their particular pastor would bless a same-sex marriage. It fleshes out the otherwise rather dry news reports we have to rely on.


October 3rd, 2012

I think we both concluded that both of our pastor’s would. Mine is very young and idealistic. He has pushed our church towards a focus on hunger in the community, ways to combat it etc…

Reed, how did the church you were at react to that? It must have been pretty divisive here, (I don’t remember)

Timothy Kincaid

October 3rd, 2012

Jess, it sounds like your pastor actually read the words of Jesus including Matthew 25. What a wacky radical!!


Ben in Oakland

October 4th, 2012

Jim, I have long wondered why we aren’t pursuing that angle in court. the minute these campaigns started saying god god god god god, they made it about the establishment of religious belief and discrimination on the basis of religious belief. we have laws at every level of government that prohibit this. Why is this any different?

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