Last weekend I attended the wedding of a friend. Friends, family, and in my case co-workers joined to celebrate. My friend, the bride, looked beautiful as she came down the aisle. Years of waiting for her prince charming to come along finally culminated in this moment. She clung to the grooms arm as only a bride can, with all the love in her heart ready to explode. Her father is a minister and after presenting her to the groom picked up his notebook for the sermon. He began “Marriage is a beautiful thing. A binding commitment between a man and a women.” I started to turn my attention to my boys who were playing games already on the iPad. Then I caught it “there are those in society who would tell you marriage is not between just a man and a woman. But they are wrong.” And there is was. The political statement about marriage.
This wedding was my first interaction in almost a decade with the strong right wing, conservative America I read about online. I was amused more than I was shocked. While the pastor never said anything overtly like “Gay marriage is wrong”, it was implied. Strongly.
What seems to me is the crux of the debate is the word “Marriage” itself. Would people be upset over “Gay Civil Union” or “Gay Domestic Partnership”? Who own’s the word “Marriage”? Is it a religious term? And if so, why does a religious term dictate legal and political classification? If you go to the chapel and your pastor marry’s you before God’s eyes, that doesn’t make you legally married. Your pastor has to be recognized by the state and you have to apply for and receive an official marriage license. So does the church or the state own marriage? The Bible allows you to have multiple wives, but the state says you can only have one.
In March, Scotland was looking to redefine the term “Marriage” to include homosexuals. The head of the Roman Catholic Church there struck out at the government saying “Redefining marriage will have huge implications for what is taught in our schools, and for wider society. It will redefine society since the institution of marriage is one of the fundamental building blocks of society. The repercussions of enacting same-sex marriage into law will be immense… Same-sex marriage would eliminate entirely in law the basic idea of a mother and a father for every child.” (Christianity Today, March 2012)
So what is marriage then? Is it not a loving relationship between two individuals committed to spending a life together? Is it about the children? If that’s the case, does that mean couples who can’t have children aren’t married according to the church? Is there a right answer to any of this?
Now, I don’t think that a gay person has the right to force a church to marry them or allow them to be married in their building if it goes against their beliefs. There are plenty of places to get married without forcing the issue at a cathedral, synagogue, etc. Just because a building exists, doesn’t mean they should be required to allow services there. Otherwise, Atheists need to back off and let churches have services in public schools again.
Just because the government makes something equal for all individuals who are voting citizens of the state, doesn’t mean you have to adapt it as your own personal truth as well. Just because the state says you’re allowed to own a hand gun, doesn’t mean you MUST own a hand gun.
I believe the debate on marriage is a matter of ownership. Does marriage belong to “the church” or “the state”? One dictates religious dogma for personal beliefs and values. The other dictates legislation for individual rights. Would the church then set guidelines for who and how individuals are covered by insurance? What about all the other legal ramifications of “legal partnerships”? There isn’t a compromise on this.
I understand why many Christians are upset about gay marriage. As the minister last weekend put it, for Christians “Marriage is a three corded bond between man, woman, and God”. But does that mean that Atheists can’t get married? And who’s god are we talking about? I also understand the importance of that little piece of paper for two people to have that says “Married” on it. It’s this tangible piece of evidence that shows I’ve made a commitment to one person to love and to hold, through sickness and in health, till death do us part.
Then, if marriage is a holy ordained commitment that “What God has bound together let no man tear asunder” why do we (Christian’s) tolerate a 50% divorce rate? That’s for another day…