Is Marriage a Civil or Religious Institution?

Ann and I were talking a few weeks ago and she told me that citizens of France needed to be married by the civil authorities before they could be married in church. I wondered about that so I googled a bit about marriage in other countries:
  • France: All marriages must be performed by a French civil authority before any religious ceremony takes place. ... The religious ceremony has to be performed after the civil ceremony (never before). The minister, priest or rabbi will require a certificate of civil marriage before any religious ceremony takes place.
  • Germany: Everybody getting married in Germany must first appear physically at a Standesamt for a civil ceremony. This is actually all that is needed, and the great majority of couples go no further.
  • Mexico: In Mexico, only civil marriage is recognized as legal. Persons wishing to do so may also have a religious ceremony, but it has no legal effect and does not replace in any way the legal binding civil marriage.
  • Turkey: Only civil marriage is legal in Turkey. You may, of course, have any religious ceremony you wish in addition to the civil one, but the religious service has no legal standing in Turkey.
I think that it is interesting how the religious aspect of marriage is separate from the civil in these countries. It seems that the latter is definitely needed if marriage affects the civil rights of the citizens of a country. Yet, for me anyways, the religious aspect is also required because I see marriage as a covenant rather than a contract. What do you think?


  1. Marriage is a civil institution. It can also be a religious institution. One can be married, contractually, by the state, have no faith and have religion not enter into it. But, for many, marriage is also a covenant between two people and G-d and the vows they take are based on their faith.

  2. As far as the government at federal, state, and local levels are concerned, marriage is a civil institution. That's one reason why I've never had a problem with government sanctioned gay marriage, even back when I was a hard core conservative.

    1. I agree with that. If it is a spiritual bond where a man and woman become one (as in bear children) then nothing changes that spiritual aspect even if gays can now marry so who cares?!

  3. I wonder if some folks can be married even if not in a legal sense. I know of one couple that considers themselves married but dot in a legal sense because that would impact her pension (she is a widow) from her deceased husband.

  4. I very much like the way the countries cited do it, especially those which consider the government's part to affirm the contract (what I would call the civil union), and then people can be married in a church or not as they and the church see fit.

    This could help solve the "gay marriage" issue by separating it from religion. Allow civil unions for gays and straights, as a few states already do, and then let churches perform or not perform religious marriages according to what their doctrines prescribe.

    In regard to your friends. I read an article within the last week or so that the number of older people living together without marriage has greatly increased because of pension considerations.

  5. Yes, Bob. Great point. A couple can be married even if not in a legal sense.

  6. My In-laws had 3 marriage ceremonies back in 1933. Fater in law was in the US Army stationed in Nicaragua and Mother in law was working there as a private duty nurse. They had to be married first by the Nicaraguan Consulate, then a American Consulate ceremony then they wanted to have a "church" wedding. I guess it worked. They were married for 50 solid years.
    I definitely wanted a spiritual ceremony. It was our covenant between God and us before those who cared about us.

  7. Marriage in my eyes is totally a covenant between a man a woman and Almighty God. This makes us accountable to each other, and both accountable to God. I think that's a good plan. It's worked for us for many years.

  8. Marriage is both a Civil AND a Religious Institution. The Civil side: it is a binding contract. The Religious side: it is a covenant.

    What I find as funny, is in America, the two have become blended together and no one challenges it on the the principle of Separation of Church and State.

  9. Bob,

    I'm pretty sure that the separation of church and civil marriage in these countries is the legacy of the French Revolution and the consequent Napoleonic regimes. (I know that Turkey wasn't ever conquered by France, but Attaturk was greatly influenced by its secularist ideals.) I'm not positive, but that was the explanation I got from an Italian about three decades ago.

    I'm pretty conservative so I don't want the Church to have to conform to the State, but why not have a statutory marriage that parallels religious marriage akin to recognition of "common law" marriage? Come to think of it we already do, its called going down to the justice of the peace. (or its equivalent in every state of the union)

  10. @Fr - Thanks for the visit and the comment. Do you think that a person can be married religiously but not civilly?


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