Yesterday in my Wing to Wing post I pondered on discernment and community. A comment from The Jewish Atheist pointed to the lack of community in today’s culture. Law has to deal with plurality. That we don’t all have the same creed, belief or ideals of community, although perhaps local law might not be so constrained. However, I’d like to posit that there are still ways clear to finding/binding discernment via community to marriage or other secular moral events like marraige, i.e., divorce.
In the past, spurred by the abortion debate, I’d proposed the notion that penance, secular, might be imposed by the state for actions which are by community consensus judged to have moral import. That is the penance applied is not meant to prejudice the conclusion of an individual or community but to insure that the individual(s) taking part in the action are not doing the same action without consideration (with intention and all that). I’m by no stretch of anyone’s imagination very expert in legal manners. Penance is assigned by the state as corrective for crime. Many cultures had penance, or trial, to signify being worthy or ready for life changing decisions. It seems likely that there is no lack of tasks that the state might assign as penance that really really need doing. Many of those prior to marraige, devotedly exclaim that they would do any task, cross any mountain, and so on, to be united with their beloved. This is a more mundane way of letting that be so.
In many Christian community (so-called paedo-baptist), birth is sacramentally noted by Baptism (and possibly Chrismation). These events are not sponsored the parents. But outsiders, that is those outside of the family circle, are brought in. Godparents, although selected by the parents, are brought act as primary sponsor for the child. These Godparents are charged with the responsibility of seeing that the child is brought up in a Godly Christian environment and life.
Can we draw on this in an analogous fashion for marraige? I think one could in fact consider a secular variant on the godparent and apply the same to marraige. This could be done in the following way. One could, on the part of the state, suggest that a sponsor (for each partner) be part of the secular marital contract. These sponsors might have to, just as those being wed, have to participate in similarly in the penance above to assert that they too have considered carefully the bond to which they are witnessing and sponsoring. In the case of divorce, these sponsors might be
called to account, ahem, be called up to demonstrate that their involvement and attempts to forestall and keep the marriage, for which they were sponsor, intact. If there was no action taken, then possibly more penance might be appropriate.