Why Should the Church Continue to Perform Marriages for the State?

Deal W. Hudson
December 14, 2014

We take for granted that priests, and other ministers, sign a couple’s marriage license after a wedding ceremony. At that moment the state, both the individual states and the United States, legally recognize the marriage. Priests and ministers, thus, act as agents of the government and are duly recognized as “Celebrants” or “Officiants” under the laws of all 50 states.

Since over half of the United States — 35 states — now recognize same-sex marriage, a simple question is raised:

Should Catholic priests, and for that matter other clergies, continue to act as agents of the state by signing marriage licenses?

There has already been a legal scuffle in Idaho over a for-profit wedding chapel, owned by a married couple, both ordained Pentecostal ministers, who refused to marry a gay couple. The city of Coeur d’Alene told David and Evelyn Kapp they faced $1,000 in daily fines and 180 days in jail for not performing such services.

After the Alliance Defense Fund ably came to their defense, the city reversed its ruling. But the defenders of same-sex marriage were outraged, with some notable exceptions such as Andrew Sullivan who wrote, “requiring individuals to perform a marriage ceremony against their beliefs is just something we don’t do in a liberal society.”


As we all know, marriage licenses themselves are issued by the individual states and then presented to priests and ministers for their signature following the ceremony. All but one state (Nebraska’s is 19) sets the legal age to marry at between 16 and 18 and only a handful still require blood tests. States immediately recognize the legality of the marriage after the ceremony, sexual consummation no longer considered as a validating factor. The Celebrant signing the marriage license is then required to send a copy to the county or state agency recording marriage certificates.

But why do I raise the question about priests and ministers continuing to sign marriage licenses? There are at least two basic reasons, the first being less important than the second. There will continue to be legal actions against clergy who refuse to marry gay couples — these actions, like all legal actions, cause lasting damage — personal reputations are ruined, persons can become targets of ridicule, even violence, and the financial ramifications can be lasting.

The more important reason is this: Since the meaning of marriage is rapidly changing due to legal redefinitions by individual states, why should the Catholic Church continue to act as marriage agents for the states? The teachings of the Church are clearly in opposition to those of the 35 states as well as the implied position of the federal government as seen in public policies.

Couldn’t it be argued that every time a priest signs a marriage license issued by the state he is virtually shrugging his shoulders at the reality of the fundamental moral and spiritual dispute?

To make its position on marriage clear, the Church should simply no longer authorize clergy to sign marriage licenses. This would have the immediate effect of creating a long overdue discussion at the parish level of what marriage actually represents to Catholics and most other Christians. Couples who want to get married would ask, “Why do I have to get married twice?” “Why do we have to go to the hassle of finding a justice of the peace?”

Yes, couples who want to be married in the Church would have to spend a few extra hours at the courthouse, but at the same time, they would be learning that the state’s notion of marriage is markedly different their Church’s teaching, as well as Judaism and all other ancient faiths.

I’m not arguing that it’s a matter of “cooperating with evil,” although it could reach a point when that argument could be made. This is a moment for the Church to stop acting as a government agent, representing a state who no longer affirms marriage as the union between a man and a woman.

The decision is a simple one, though the impact would be painful and divisive. Yet, more important than the conflict that would ensue is the sound of the Church’s clear voice, distinguishing its view of human life from that of an increasingly hostile society.

By Deal Hudson

Deal W. Hudson was born November 20, 1949 in Denver, CO, to Emmie and Jack Hudson, both native Texans. Dr. Hudson had an older sister Ruth, and eventually, a younger sister, Elizabeth. Emmie Hudson, Ruth Hudson and Elizabeth Hudson now live in Houston, TX; Jack Hudson passed away some years ago. The late Jack Hudson was a captain for Braniff Airlines in Denver at the time of Dr. Hudson’s birth. Later the family moved to Kansas City when his father joined the Federal Aviation Agency. From Kansas City, the Hudson family moved to Minneapolis, then to Massapequa, NY, and finally to Alexandria, VA, where they first occupied a home overlooking the Potomac River adjacent to the Mount Vernon estate. After a year, the family moved to a home on Tarpon Lane a few houses up the street from the Yacht Haven boat docks. Dr. Hudson attended Mt. Vernon Elementary School from grades 4 to 6 and has a special gratitude for the teaching of Mr. Hoppe who first told him was a ‘smart lad.’ Having moved with his family to Fort Worth, TX in 1960, Dr. Hudson attended William Monnig Junior High and Arlington Heights HS. In high school, Dr. Hudson was captain of the golf team, editor of the literary magazine (Guerdon), and performed the role of Peter in the ‘The Diary of Anne Frank’ during his senior year. Dr. Hudson graduated cum laude with a major in philosophy from the University of Texas-Austin in 1971 where his undergraduate advisor was Prof. John Silber. His teachers at the University of Texas included Prof. Louis Mackey and Prof. Larry Caroline. Dr. Hudson minored in both classics and English literature. Dr. Hudson lived in Atlanta from 1974-1989, where he attended Emory University, receiving a Phd from the Graduate Institute for the LIberal Arts. He also taught philosophy at Mercer University in Atlanta from 1980-89. In 1989 Dr. Hudson and his family left Atlanta when he was hired to teach philosophy at Fordham University in the Bronx. Dr. Hudson taught at Fordham, and also part-time at New York University, from 1989 to 1994. Dr. Hudson first came to Atlanta in after graduation from Princeton Theological Seminary (PTS) with an M.Div. While at PTS, Dr. Hudson managed the Baptist Student Union at Princeton University and became its first director. Dr. Hudson also was licensed at a minister in the Southern Baptist Convention at Madison Baptist Church in Madison, NJ. Dr. Hudson’s primary area of study at PTS was the history of Christian doctrine which he pursued with Dr. Karlfried Froelich. In 1984 Dr. Hudson was received in the Catholic Church by Msgr. Richard Lopez, with the special permission of Archbishop Thomas A. Donnellan, at the chapel of Our Lady of Perpetual Help Cancer Home in Atlanta. Dr. Hudson has been married twenty-five years to Theresa Carver Hudson and they have two children, Hannah Clare, 23, and Cyprian Joseph (Chip), 15, adopted from Romania when he was three years old. The Hudson family has lived in Fairfax, VA for more than fifteen years, after having lived five years in Bronxville, NY and a year in Atlanta, GA, where Theresa and Deal were married.

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