The last Christian marriage I attended was held under your system: the bridal pair were ‘married’ twice. They married one another before the Church’s witness (a priest), using one set of formulas, and making a vow of lifelong fidelity (and the woman of obedience); they then married again before the State’s witness… using another set of formulas and making no vow of fidelity or obedience. I felt it was an abominable proceeding — and also ridiculous, since the first set of formulas and vows included the latter as the lesser. In fact it was only not ridiculous on the assumption that the State was in fact saying by implication: I do not recognize the existence of your church; you may have certain vows in your meeting-place but they are just foolishness, private taboos, a burden you take on yourself: a limited and impermanent contract is all that is really necessary for citizens.”
J.R.R. Tolkien, from The Letters of J.R.R. Tolkien, page 62.
This excerpt is from a letter to C.S. Lewis where Tolkien is responding (I think) to something Lewis wrote on divorce. Tolkien was a staunch Catholic and believed very firmly in the sanctity of marriage and the evil of divorce. But in this particular passage, Tolkien takes issue with something that I for one have come to take for granted: the necessity of a “civil union” over and above a traditional marriage in a church before God. In Tolkien’s view, the latter includes the former, and by not recognizing the validity of a marriage unless it is registered before the State, the State is relegating the Church to a mere ceremony, quaint but nothing more than a “burden you take on yourself.” As long as the State controls the validity of a marriage ceremony, it should be no surprise when the State also tries to control the definition.