I have heard several people both in and out of the Church that have suggested in response to gay marriage to have the government stay out of marriage. They have suggested that it churches should define marriage and governments should perform only civil unions.
I used to agree with this position. After thinking about this some last night, I am not so sure it is that easy.
Even if churches defined marriage, the government would still need to recognise those marriages as being legal unions. This would be necessary in order to recognise spousal rights and benefits (health care, insurance, access to information, and so forth). That would mean the state would need to recognise any definition the individual churches would decide. Granted, most would determine that marriage is between a man and a woman. There are others, however, that would define it as between two persons, and others that would define it as between two or more persons. This would mean the state would need to define unions between two men, a father and daughter, a man and three women, and the other endless combinations.
Is that something we are willing to accept just so the government stayed out of marriage?
In addition, if the churches defined marriage, would they also be responsible for exercising divorce? If so, we must recognise that some churches may be patriarchal in nature, and potentially would not grant divorce to a woman who is in a physically abusive marriage or would not recognise the rights to property of a wife. As well, some churches may not grant divorce in any case.
Taking defining marriage away from the state can open up a huge assortment of problems, and I am not so sure I want to go there.