As the idea of gay marriage has become increasingly acceptable in American culture and as the legal institutions have begun to accommodate it, it has become increasingly popular among evangelical Christians to argue for a complete separation of Church and State on the issue of marriage. In a surprising twist, the patron saint of their position is none other than C.S. Lewis, who writes in Mere Christianity:

C.S. Lewis

There ought to be two distinct kinds of marriage: one governed by the State with rules enforced on all citizens, the other governed by the Church with rules enforced by her on her own members. The distinction ought to be quite sharp, so that a man knows which couples are married in a Christian sense and which are not.

There are, of course, questions to be asked about Lewis’s inclusion of marriage in a book entitled Mere Christianity.
More importantly, those Christian libertarians who critique Christian (political) conservatives’ rejection of politically sanctioned homosexual marriage push Lewis’s words beyond their natural and (I would argue) intended meaning. In context, Lewis is writing specifically about the question of divorce. To this extent, they are write about Lewis’s distinction between the Church and the state’s approach to marriage.

But the state’s allowance of divorce in some cases does not necessarily entail the state’s approval of homosexual marriage. The questions of state sanctioned divorce and state sanctioned homosexual marriage are as distinct as Christian and secular marriages. Lewis’s words prove nothing for the Christian libertarian on the question of homosexual marriage other than that there is a distinction between Christian and secular marriage, a distinction which no Christian conservative would argue against (and which is in line with the broader tradition of the Church).

(HT: Scott Overpeck, whose use of Lewis prompted this post)

(Update:  another silly spelling error fixed.  Many apologies!)

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • As it was my use of Lewis which promted this posting I saw it fitting to respond to your thoughtful critiques. Also, my surname is Overpeck not Overpect, not that either one is less embarrassing than the other, but at least am use to the jokes related to the former…
    http://www.scottoverpeck.com/2008/07/matthew-andersons-critique.html

  • Thanks for the spelling correction. Hope all is well.

  • Guest

    I would agree with you on this point that the quote can’t be used to support any form of marriage equality. On a general view of liberty, however, I would include Lewis what might be termed “right-libertarianism” or “conservative leaning libertarianism.” Lewis said robber barrons are better at organizing society than the State.

  • GeoS

    Hey, Lewis stole my thinking!