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Gay Episcopal bishop says civil and religious marriage should be separate

The first openly gay Episcopal bishop told a Studio City gathering today that the church should begin mending divisions over the issue of same-sex marriage by getting out of the civil marriage business altogether.

During a visit to St. Michael & All Angels Church this morning, Bishop V. Eugene Robinson said he favored the system used in France and other parts of Europe in which civil marriage -- performed by government officials -- is completely separate from religious vows. In the U.S., the civil and religious ceremonies are often combined with the cleric signing the government marriage license.

"In this country, it has become very confusing about where the civil action begins and ends and where the religious action begins and ends, because we have asked clergy to be agents of the state," said Robinson, the bishop of New Hampshire.

Robinson, whose election six years ago was decried by some in the Episcopal church and praised by others, supports gay marriage and had his own civil commitment ceremony with his long-time partner blessed in the church last summer. He said that "untangling" the roles of clergy and government would focus discussion of same-sex marriage on civil rights rather than religion.

"The church is infringing on the secular society and trying to enforce its beliefs onto the entire culture," he said. "If we can get these two things separated, we can assure every religious group, no matter how conservative, that they will never have to bless these marriages."

"I think we could actually gain some support from our detractors if we could make this separation clear," he said.

Robinson visited the Studio City church while in Los Angeles to receive an award from the Gay & Lesbian Alliance Against Defamation.

-- Harriet Ryan

Comments () | Archives (24)

As a practicing Orthodox Jew I find myself in complete agreement with the idea of a total separation of religious and civil marriage and divorce. Every culture approaches marriage, divorce, etc. differently; some religions treat it as a sacrament while others treat it as a contract with obligations. Many religions ban certain relatives from marrying, inconsistently (why should all be consistent); states, on the other hand, should limit place limits on marriage consistent with social or health goals independent of any particular religious doctrine or dogma.

Similarly, by enlisting the clergy as agents of the civil administration, their religious standing will often be compromised or otherwise threatened; a clergyman has a primary obligation to his religious teachings which may stand in conflict with the state's interests, whatever they may be.

"The church is infringing on the secular society and trying to enforce its beliefs onto the entire culture,"


Is this guy ever in New Hampshire? If he was, he would realize that his tiny diocese is getting tinier - despite his pledge that "uncountable" would replace those that flee his liberal heresies.

There are many other liberal bishops of tiny, rapidly failing Episcopal dioceses. They hold to the same supermarket theology-lite, picking out the easy stuff and ignoring the hard parts. But does anyone even know the names of the bishops of Vermont or Newark or Missouri, etc. It is simply homosexualism, that Gene Robinson gets to march around, giving insipid inaugural prayers, etc.

Actually, Mr Robinson was in New Hampshire a couple of months ago to announce draconian budget cuts, but he did not volunteer to reduce his salary despite making thousands if not millions in book sales and speaking arrangements.

Rick Warren does not receive a dime from the Saddleback Churches. In fact, he gives 90% of the proceeds from his book sales to the church. So Mr Robinson, how much do you make from your book sales and speaking engagements? Do you even tithe?

Dude, this is sooooo right

Yup - that's the way things are done here in Germany (live in Berlin) - the legally valid marriage license is procured from a gov't agency - any interaction with a religious institution thereafter is entirely optional, and to be legallly married, the state license is required - no church (or other religious entity) may issue this document. Seems to work jus' fine here. Sounds like a fine idea in the U.S., disentangling civil and religious strands.

Finally, a sane voice in the wilderness. This is not an uncommon thought in the gay community.

Religious institutions should get out of the civil union business (it's a CONTRACT between two people SANCTIONED by the government) and the government should get out of the marriage business (it's a RELIGIOUS ceremony - PERIOD!).

Let the government issue civil union licenses and then if you want to go get married, take the state issued license, go to your local religious institution, and have them perform a marriage ceremony.

Separation of the two, civil and religious, solves the right-wing(nut) dilemma - if you and your religious group don't think your god would approve to two boys or two girls getting married - then don't perform the ceremony. The government shouldn't care who wants to enter into a civil union - as long as they are consenting adults, and agree to care for one-another, then the State should say - go for it. It's actually a very 'conservative' view-point - keep government OUT of the lives of its citizens.

The rights the government grants to people that want to enter into a civil union are SECULAR rights (in exchange, by the way, for assuming specific SECULAR responsibilities), not religious rights. And whatever a religious institution does in a marriage ceremony, grants religious 'rights' with religious responsibilities.

No gay or lesbian person in their right mind wants to have their civil union 'blessed' (Ha!!!) by an organization that doesn't want them, accept them, or embrace them, so, Catholics, Mormons, 'Christians' and every person and organization that doesn't want gays and lesbians can 'rejoice' - none of us gays and lesbians want anything to do with you, either. So, take your religious 'marriage' ceremony...i sure don't want it!

Thats fine to separate marriage from civil unions, but the word marriage is in the legal definition of marriage in all 50 states. If you can replace the word marriage with civil unions in all of the states and keep marriage with the churches, that would be fine. Except there is no caveat. States will never do this.
2 cents,

That's actually the way it already works in the U.S. The confusion arises from the fact that most clergy are also licensed government agents, so when a couple chooses to have a religious ceremony, the clergy person, acting in the capacity of a government official, usually signs the civil marriage license.

The religious ceremony usually includes a phrase to the effect of "by the power vested in me by the state of . . .," and as long as the clergy person is licensed by the state, all s/he needs to do is sign the license. The religious ceremony is legally superfluous.

The issue seems to be that people have difficulty understanding that the issue being addressed by state governments is statutory and unrelated to religious rituals.

I agree with the bishop - that the religious vows of marriage should be entirely separate and optional from the civil marriage provisions. Moreover, the civil authorities should term these legal entities "civil unions" for both opposite gender and same gender couples. And let's do away with all those so-called "defense of marriage" statutes at the federal and state levels. Let the churches, synagogues and mosques define and defend marriage as they wish for their respective adherents. Bottom line, keep the churches out of government business. This is particularly true for the Roman Catholic archbishop who is now actively pressuring the New York state legislature to vote against same-sex marriage.

There is no need to replace the word "marriage" with "civil union" if we simply remove the church from the equation. This is such a simple solution.

Whether a valid license is procured via religious institution or government agency, marriage is the union between a man and a woman, period.

Great. The state completely co-opting a religion in Germany. Mind you this is a "state" 63 years old now, replacing a "state" that lasted twelve years, replacing a "state" that lasted 15 years, replacing a "state" that lasted 48 years. Let's just say there were different opinions on gay marriage in those various "states".

Mind you some thought at least one of them would last a thousand years. Anybody else have a problem being lectured by a country with this background?


It's ridiculous in this day n' age for our government or our churches to keep up this charade.

Getting married from the state's standpoint is a legal issue only. They don't care if you're muslim, christian, hindu, or atheist. Or at least they better not.

And churches should get mixed up in the idea of the law either. It's none of the christians' business what our laws are. It's only the business of those individual christians so much as they can influence it via voting in the political process or protesting in the streets.

But churches should have nothing to do with it.

Go to the court, sign the papers. If you want to make anything more of it in terms of spirituality, you're perfectly free to on your own dime.

A lot of countries outside of the US - both those that have legal marriage equality and those that don't - have a complete disentanglement of the religious and legal when it comes to marriage (UK and Australia are two I've lived in, and work this way). To be legally married, and thus counted as married for taxes etc etc etc, you have to get a certificate of some sort from the government. Once you have this certificate, you are married, in the eyes of the law and the vast majority of the populace. If you also want a religious ceremony, to gain yourselves a religious marriage, that's fine too - you can have both. However, you are not legally married if you have only had the religious ceremony (although it's quite common for religious ceremonies to incorporate the legal bit at the end, so that you can get both your marriages at the same time & place - government have endorsed various people, including religious representatives, to be able to do the legal bit).

What is a gay bishop for God's sake? If it's not an oxymoron, I don't know what is. How can someone have a life style that's explicitly condemned many times in his Holy Book and go on and preach that book? If someone's to say "dear Bishop, what does the Bible say about homosexuality?", how would he answer? "Hey, don't worry about that stuff dude, the Bible doesn't count. God should have known better, and I surely know better than Him?"

By the way, I'm a Muslim and I fail to comprehend the level of absurdity our fellow Abrahamic believers are made to endure. In my view, the Christianity was already a watered-down version of the Judaism and you continue to water it down further. Religion isn't the world's most elastic thing that you can put in whatever shape you like. I don't know what that gay bishop preaches but you can't call it Christendom. Call it whatever you like, call it "Super Hip New Age Carpe Diemiste Gay-Bishopianism" if you like, but don't call it Christendom. And replace the name Jesus with Dionysos or something.

I'm amazed that I'm agreeing with Robinson on anything, but in this case he happens to be right. Look up the word "license" in a law dictionary & you'll see that it's permission to do that which would otherwise be illegal. Is it illegal to get married? Not unless you're already married to someone else, so what would you need a "license" for? For "benefits" - not to make your marriage justified by God. In other words, if you were married by a country pastor in a non 501(c)(3) corporation church, according to religious tradition, without a State license & outlived your spouse, you'd give up such things as a portion of your spouse's pension, social security, etc. And several States don't recognize a marriage without the license, although several do recognize religious marriages & even common-law marriages (live together for 7 years).

For those who believe the Bible, notice that there is no particular ceremony prescribed - nor is there even the implication that the state created the institution or that you need the state's permission to marry. True marriage is a covenant between you, your spouse & God - man may call a civil union with a license a "marriage", but it's not - it's just a civil contract & since you can divorce, it's not even a binding contract. The church most assuredly needs to get out of the civil union business - let the state do that for those who want it, and/or don't believe in the Bible. And let those who do believe forsake the license part - otherwise they put their marriage under the jurisdiction of the state, not under the authority of God.

I've long advocated this solution. The government should not be involved with marriage at all and should grant civil union licenses to all, regardless of whether they are heterosexual or homosexual. Let the religious institutions grant or bless marriages however they see fit. I am sure we'll see plenty of religious organizations happy to bless gay marriages.

Bottom line: the state should not be involved in spiritual matters in any way, shape, or form.

And note to Steve: It doesn't matter what a government calls it if it is applied equally across the board. Does it matter if a state sanctioned homosexual partnership is called a civil union if the same heterosexual partnerships are also called civil unions?

Excellent idea.
The importance attached to a word: marriage... plus the blending of Church and State in this matter is a recipe for stupidity.

All of the "slippery slope" & "moral implications of" bull chip from religions is irrelevant and annoying.

Rather than preventing Gays from marrying, let's REEL IN the "power vested in religious bullies".

Put them back in their place so that the real discussion of marriage, a CIVIL institution, can begin.

I'm with TThorson. Both parties for "domestic partnership" apply for a license after which the state considers them domestic partners with all the privileges and responsibilities not legally applicable to what we term "marriage." Any further ceremony or ritual or whatever the parties want to do after that is up to them and the entity performing the service. A nice separation of church and state -- the way things should be. BTW, in most faiths the "marriage" happens between the individuals and, typically, well before the ceremony. The ritual merely expresses their commitment to each other in front of the community.

This is why the church(es) will continue to lose support effectively from the GBSL community. There is no concern for where society is going, only where the church has been. I predict in two or three egenrations America will be a very gay-friendly nation.


It works the same in the US as in Germany; you get a license to marry from the state not from a church. Using a church to perform the marriage is optional. That is not the issue. The issue is why should a church be involved at all in completing the marriage that is permitted by the license. The suggestion is the state issues the license and performs the ceremony. The church would do something completely separate, call it a blessing.

All law is based on someone's idea of morality. Just because a philosophy is espoused by a religion doesn't make it any less valid than a philosophy that does not claim divine origin. Christian morality is no less valid than, say, Objectivism, taught by Ayn Rand, the will to power taught by Nietzsche, the radical Maoism taught by the Khmer Rouge, or the current consensus beliefs of Western Liberals (the rightness of which, in ignorance of history and anthropology, they often believe to be self-evident). We decide on the legal course of society by voting, one person-one vote, regardless of what philosophy that person espouses. This system has served us well. As for Bishop Robinson, he has the right to teach what he wants, just as Episcopalians have the right to leave The Episcopal Church in the United States (ECUSA) if they think that the ECUSA is abandoning Christian beliefs for the beliefs of modern Western liberals.

As stated by Mark cady, the Republican Judge in Iowa who just wrote the decision on this issue and explained that a state’s legalization of same-sex marriage has no effect on marriage as practiced by religions.

“The only difference,” the judge wrote, is that “civil marriage will now take on a new meaning that reflects a more complete understanding of equal protection of the law.”


The bishop is showing his historical ignorance on top of his theological ignorance. That the state mandates civil marriage is the fruit of the French Revolution and its wholesale war on the Church.

Note that this clown waited a year or so after civil union/ marriage was legalized in his state to marry his partner.

An Episcopal priest


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