Sunday, May 30, 2004

Jangled Thoughts on Marriage

The Bishop was in the newspaper yesterday. Our Bishop, the one who visited us last week. Next month he will be at the church closest to our home doing his yearly visitation. (It is not our church but it is a fine one; we still go to our old church in the city...a last holding on to our urban selves. Well, that and it is where I was baptized, married, and had my children baptized. It is home.) During that visit he will bless the union of the resident Priest and his partner. I think this is a wonderful thing for the Bishop to do...and brave because it will certainly bring anger upon him. The church itself must be thrilled their community will be strengthened by this validation and commitment of their priest.

Before church this morning, as I set up the coffee maker and got out the scissors for the Sunday School, I chatted briefly with a friend from church about this event. I was surprised by his outlook on gay marriage. He is in a committed relationship and thinks that a civil recognition of union and a religious blessing of commitment should be enough. I disagree but there really wasn't enough time to articulate just what it was that I disagreed on. I did say that I thought all marriages should be celebrated and that what made marriage strong and beautiful was not heterosexuality but the choice to enter into that commitment and that choice transcends sexual identity. A family that chooses to be a family is stronger than a family forced into the situation. A couple that chooses to enter a committed relationship is better off than a couple forced to put on the mask of the name.

Marriage is a complicated issue. Legally the state grants license to marry and priests/pastors are some of those the State licenses to oversee the signing and entering into contract. At the same time marriage is performed in churches by clergy as an entering into contract with the community. At our church (and at my wedding) the priest asks as part of the ceremony..."Will you who witness these vows support these two people in their lives...." and the people of the church thunder back "WE WILL". Our marriage is not just between the two of us but part of our whole community life. The priest married us as an agent of the State but he also joined us together in his role as agent for God and Church and I see marriage as a sacrament as well as a legal state.

One may get married legally in the US without involving church at all. That is fine with me, really, and suits many people including some members of my family. It would be oppressive to insist on invoking God's involvement in a marriage for people who do not believe or want God involved.

In some churches one may have a committed union blessed in church. This ceremony may be almost identical to a religious marriage ceremony barring only the use of the word marriage and the invoking of the power of the state.

At this time, in most places, neither ceremony is an open gate. Some people are barred from obtaining marriage licenses from the state and a religious blessing of a union is not offered to people who may obtain a license for marriage. Because I may obtain a marriage license from the State it is expected by my church that I will have a marriage ceremony. Blessing of unions is for second class citizens who may not get State approval (my interpretation). Well I don't want special privileges! I don't want to be held apart from other people and I don't want to receive benefits based on the gender of my partner. I don't want to be part of a system that denies the love and commitment of couples because it's tradition and we love our traditions.

If the choice to have a church sacrament of marriage without a legal license had been available to us 14 years ago, it would have been an appealing alternative. I don't think the State needs to have a concern or care with whom I marry as long as no laws are broken in the process; I don't think they need to gather information on my age or race or that of my spouse; I don't think they need to know when and where I plan to have the ceremony or what my religion is. If I choose to have my church bless my relationship and they agree to do it then the government should leave us alone. I would not consider us any less married or a family if we were lacking the license nor do I consider those who legally marry but have no religious ceremony less married than I. I also don't think the church should decline to bless the unions of heterosexual couples; this I take up within the community.

These days in this place, there is no stigma in not marrying and still having a family. The schools and government work well to administer to families of all sorts of configurations: married, divorced, remarried, several fathers per family, foster parents, grandparents with children. Does a marriage license make or unmake a family? Unmake a parent? No, and this has been settled firmly over the last few decades. By denying the same services and attentions to same sex couples, we do deny their familyhood just as denying them marriage licenses denies their full participation in the entity of "Marriage" implying thereby that their relationships are not meaningful or real or vital.

It annoys me no end that in order to get the church's blessing and sacrament I must first have the State's blessing.

It annoys me even more that those who are SEEKING the right to marry legally - which means that they VALUE the right - are being denied.

I see in gay couples who wish to marry some of the same reasons for wanting to marry that I had.

I wish to see us separate church and state in the matter of marriage. Make the legal contract open to everyone and the sacrament available at those churches which wish to offer it.

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