When state, church should mind their own business


As many of you know, after over 40 years of teaching in various colleges and universities across the South, last year I retired.
You might also know that the family relocated to the Florida Panhandle.
However, while living down here, I remain a citizen of Alabama. This gives me the privilege of writing about the lunacy of both states.
Which is easy, for they often seem to be one-in-the-same. Take, for example, the issue of Gay Marriage.
A lot of folks down here see it as a violation of deeply held religious beliefs.  Others simply find it Yucky. Just like Alabama.
Now the courts have said that same-sex marriage is legal. So what are these opponents going to do?  Obey the law? Nah. Try to get around it? Oh yeah.
In Florida a couple of counties decided, after decades of holding courthouse weddings presided over by courthouse officials, that rather than participate in anti-scriptural same-sex marrying they will stop having courthouse weddings altogether. Yessir. Same sex, different sex, doesn’t matter. If you wanna get married, find another place. No one is discriminated against because everyone is discriminated against. To enable public officials to avoid carrying out their legal responsibility, a responsibility that the public officials feel endorses a lifestyle of which they do not approve, the public officials are exempted from doing what the law says they should do. You following me?
Meanwhile, up in Alabama, some counties are doing the same thing. With the blessing of the Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court. At this point, a word of warning seems appropriate. Alabama, if you consider this is the high road and are going to take it, make sure you have not merrily taken the low road when circumstances were different.
If Alabama courthouse marriages are like courthouse marriages that have taken place elsewhere, then marrying same-sex couples will hardly be the first and only time that officers of the court have performed ceremonies that blessed something that might not pass scriptural scrutiny. Because the last time I checked, the Lord God of Hosts wasn’t too keen on fornication. Ask yourself, how many times have couples arrived at a courthouse, one step ahead of the obstetrician?  Have you ever heard of a courthouse official denying the couple a license or refusing a ceremony because it was obvious that the two had been “doing the dirty” well before their wedding day? I cannot recall public officials taking such a stand. They left that to the churches. Now, let me tell you a story that might have some bearing on the matter.
Years ago, when I was doing research on a little church in 18th century South Carolina, I found in the minutes where a husband and wife had been expelled for fornication.  I was confused. Shouldn’t the charge be adultery? I asked a learned friend, who answered with two questions – “when were they married and when was the baby born?”
I checked and sure enough, four months after their marriage and two weeks before their expulsion, their baby was baptized, clear evidence that they had been out there fooling around before the church blessed their union. The church looked at the evidence and kicked them out. Which the church had every right to do. They had joined the church of their own free will, had agreed to the rules of the church, broke the rules, and out they went. A county, or state for that matter, is not a church, though some folks apparently want it to be.
If a citizen is obeying the law of the land – and like it or not same-sex marriage is fast becoming just that – then a state or county cannot deny those folks the same rights and privileges it grants to others.
Nor can a state or county deny legal rights to everyone, just to get at one particular group of people. Those courthouse officials who do not want to perform the ceremony can find a substitute who will, or they can quit.  It is not like anyone forced them to take the job.
On the other hand, the church is not the state, though some folks…
A church can refuse to consecrate a union for whatever reason it chooses, and if a couple, same-sex or otherwise, doesn’t like it, they can find another church. Or go to the courthouse. If there was ever a time when church and state should stay out of each other’s business, this is it.
As for the couple expelled from their church for fornication, six months later the minutes simply noted that they had been readmitted to full fellowship, from which, by the way, the state had never excluded them. And as far as church records revealed, the matter was never mentioned again.
Harvey H. (“Hardy”) is Professor Emeritus of History at Jacksonville State University. He can be reached at hjackson@cableone.net.


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