I would like to highlight one source of confusion in the present debates on marriage and sexuality (in the classic sense of a mixing together of various things).
That is the subtle distinction between Holy Matrimony and Marriage. The terms really ought not be used interchangeably, though they often are. However, marriage, properly speaking, is a human phenomenon (as part of the creation; and as many believe, thus instituted by God). Even given that source, there is wide variability to the form of marriage in many cultures and countries, through time and space, including the Jewish tradition out of which the Christian tradition grew. In many respects the Christian understanding of marriage was as much influenced by prevailing Roman custom (and law) as it was by Jewish understandings.
Holy Matrimony, or “Christian Marriage” is a particular subset of these various forms of marriage. The Canons of the Episcopal Church (I.18.1) attempt to preserve this distinction, limiting Holy Matrimony to marriages that are “entered into within the community of faith,” that is, within the church. (As a side note, I will point out that the BCP rubric, page 422, allowing “Christian marriage” in which only one of the parties is a Christian, pushes the envelope considerably, and is arguably discordant.)
The Exhortation at the opening of the Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage, on the other hand, supports the distinction, noting that “marriage” has existed since the Creation, but that what the assembled body has “come together” for is Holy Matrimony. The Catechism, page 861, continues this clarification by stating, “Holy Matrimony is Christian marriage.” (I will also note that the Catechism is one of the formal elements defining the Doctrine of the Church according to Canon IV.15. This is as “official” as one can get.)
Thus our church recognizes the existence of marriages which do not come under the law of our church as Holy Matrimony. This includes civil marriages as well as the religious marriages of non-Christians. We do not deny the legal reality of civil marriages, nor do we require the members of our church to have been married in a church wedding, or to participate in the “Blessing of a Civil Marriage,” in order to be considered married. (To some extent this reaffirms the ancient doctrine that the ministers of marriage are the couple, and the church serves to witness and bless the marriage.) This is, needless to say, not the case in all Christian traditions, and this is just one more example of the discontinuities that exist between those various traditions.
In the Episcopal Church, clergy are required by Canon I.1.18 to abide by the law of the church concerning Holy Matrimony and the law of the state concerning marriage. Where these are in conflict, it seems to me that preserving the distinction between Holy Matrimony and marriage is a helpful factor in determining what to do — or refrain from doing — in particular cases.
I hope raising this distinction will be helpful in continued discussions of the interaction between church and state, and within the church.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG