It seems like EVERYONE has had something to say about the Supreme Court ruling granting gay and lesbian couples the right to marry. I weighed in with a short paragraph on my facebook page the day of the ruling, not wanting to go into great detail and get into an online debate. For the most part I find those kinds of debates exhausting and unproductive, since it’s so hard to have a good discussion when limited to short blurbs. It’s one of the reasons, along with posting sermons, that I started this blog. I wanted to have the space to share my ponderings (hence the blog title!). It’s still not as good as a face to face conversation, but it’s better than twitter at 140 characters, or facebook where I roll my eyes at “status updates” that go on forever.
I warn you – this is the LONGEST post I have ever written. I normally try to stay under 1,000 words since that’s what I’m mostly capable of reading at any one time, but there was NO WAY that was going to happen with this. What I’ve done is break it into two posts with two main themes – the LEGAL and the THEOLOGICAL. In this first post I am sharing my legal thoughts (keeping in mind I’m not a lawyer).
Also, and always, I share my ponderings as an individual. My denomination (Evangelical Lutheran Church in America) has released several teaching documents and statements related to human sexuality which I invite you to research. The views expressed here are entirely my own…
I support the decision of the court.
Marriage is a legal contract, first and foremost. If a couple comes to me and wants to get married but doesn’t have a marriage license issued by the town/county/state – I CAN’T DO IT. Or I could, but it wouldn’t be legal. In many countries, the legal marriage and the blessing of that marriage are two different events. Remember when Prince Charles married Camilla? They went to the town registrar first, got married, then went to the church and received a blessing. That’s the way weddings are conducted in many countries. Even now people don’t have to get married in churches. Many don’t. And the court was CLEAR that religious teaching and practice would not be impacted by the ruling. You can still teach that homosexuality is wrong if that is the belief of your church. PASTORS WILL NOT BE FORCED TO CONDUCT SAME SEX MARRIAGES. Pastors will be no more forced to officiate at “these” weddings as Roman Catholic priests are to officiate at remarriages of divorced people. Everybody needs to just calm down. (I don’t mean to sound sarcastic, but really, some of the predictions of doom are just a bit over the top).
In case anyone is unsure of this, the following is a quote directly from the ruling (Obergefell v. Hodges, p. 27):
“Finally, it must be emphasized that religions, and those who adhere to religious doctrines, may continue to advocate with utmost, sincere conviction that, by divine precepts, same-sex marriage should not be condoned. The First Amendment ensures that religious organizations and persons are given proper protection as they seek to teach the principles that are so fulfilling and so central to their lives and faiths, and to their own deep aspirations to continue the family structure they have long revered. The same is true of those who oppose same-sex marriage for other reasons.”
And as a legal institution, the state of marriage has changed very much through the years. Remember the days of legal (ahem… biblical) polygamy, arranged marriages and the “selling” of daughters in marriage (think dowries)? Even some of our current wedding traditions are based on antiquated beliefs, like a father “giving away” his daughter. I compromised with my mother at my wedding that my father would walk me down the aisle, but there was no “who gives this woman” baloney. And when I officiate I do NOT do that. No one “gives” a woman away because no one “owns” her in the first place – although at one time this was practically true. Women couldn’t own property, they had no rights to their children in cases of divorce, and except for lower classes in domestic labor women did not hold jobs.
A woman’s name changing when she married was also a sign of “ownership.” She went from having her father’s name to her husband’s name. (Disclosure – I changed my name when I married, but only because I didn’t like my “maiden” name and my husband’s last name was “pretty.”) In fact, we aren’t so far removed from the days when, after Helen Logan married Frank Smith she became Mrs. Frank Smith – she lost her identity altogether. The marriage pronouncement itself also noted this, as the couple were proclaimed “MAN and wife.” Notice how the man stayed a man, but a woman became a wife. Also, “you may kiss your bride,” was also a public display of that ownership. Most wedding ceremonies have changed these customs to show equality, which is a GOOD thing – the proclamation of “husband and wife” and the phrase I use, “as a sign of your vows you may kiss each other.” And titles are changing, but boy was there a backlash when women first started using “Ms.” Why does a man’s title not signal his marital status, but a woman’s MUST (until the recent invention of “Ms”) – again, back to ownership. In addition to the “Miss, Mrs., Ms” titles, we have the antiquated “maiden” and “matron” labels. We still see these used in wedding services, except when you have rebels like me. When I was married our bulletin listed my “woman” of honor, not a “maid” or “matron” of honor – because the marital status of the person standing beside me as I said my vows was nobody’s business.
Marriage has also been a very political institution, once (and sometimes still) used to unite families, grant higher (or lower) social status, appease political enemies/allies and even countries. For the higher classes emotion played little part in deciding marital partners. Princes and princesses were often married off without even meeting their spouses prior to the ceremony. Marriage was one of many moves for the powerful to play in the social and political chess game of status and power. In very traditional circles (in various religions/cultures, not just Christian, Jewish or Muslim), marriages are still sometimes arranged from childhood. Imagine knowing at 9 years old that Joseph/Miriam was the person you would be marrying when you were of age, regardless of whether or not you actually liked them!
Since marriage is a legal contract and the reasons and meanings of marriage HAVE changed throughout history and indeed in many of our lifetimes, including allowing people of different races to marry, it seems logical to me that the court would look at the desires of two fully-consenting adults, who wish to be legally committed to one another and held accountable to one another in the eyes of the law, and say “yes – it is so ordered.”
I support the decision of the court.
In part two, I’ll unpack my support of marriage equality from a theological perspective…