On Faith: Affirming Marriage
By: Lawrence Lee, United Church, Two Harbors, Lake County News Chronicle
There is much handwringing in some quarters of the faith community over the recent passage of the bill recognizing same sex marriages. Some are concerned that this is a radical redefinition of marriage. Some say this debases the concept of marriage. Others wonder aloud if this will lead to fewer heterosexuals getting married.
Call me a “glass-half-full” kinda guy, but I choose to look at it differently. What I see is an affirmation of the basic idea of marriage - that people, whether gay or straight, desire to affirm their love for one another with vows in front of their friends and family and declare it before God and the world. This romantic embracing of what seemed to be an endangered institution is, to my way of thinking, heartwarming.
There was also handwringing in the 70s over the decay of marriage when I was growing up. Then it was not about gay people wanting to get married, but about straight people not wanting to get married. Unwed couples were cohabitating or, as church ladies said in hushed tones, “living in sin.” Freewheeling couples of the day didn’t see the point of marriage. They didn’t want to get entangled in old-fashioned ideas of relationships. They wanted to forge their own way, do their own thing, and define their relationship, however they wanted without conforming to societal norms.
Marriage is, after all, a pretty old-fashioned notion. In marriage, two people voluntarily pledge themselves to each other and promise to remain faithful to the end of their days. This “forsaking all others,” as the declaration of intention goes, “as long as you both shall live” is a pretty outlandish idea. That’s a potent promise that no one should take lightly. I often ask myself as a wedding officiant, how anyone could ever feel equipped to make that promise to anyone else. It is an audacious thing to say “I will love you forever” and it seemed, for a while, that such a sentiment was going out of fashion.
But now there is a whole group of people who are saying they want to be able to do just that; to make that preposterous and wonderful affirmation in front of God and everybody - “I love you and nothing is going to change that.” After Stonewall, the Harvey Milk assassination, the AIDS epidemic and years of marginalization and bullying, gays and lesbians have stepped forward and want, of all things, marriage. They want normal, humdrum, white picket fence marriage. What the heterosexual community has taken for granted and even begun to discard as a relic, the homosexual community has embraced and said, in effect: “That old thing you seem to be tired of? If you’re not using it, could we have it?”
You may have heard one of the stereotypes of the gay community - that they come into run down neighborhoods and revitalize them. Maybe they’ll revitalize marriage in the same way. After all, heterosexuals have done their fair share to trash the neighborhood. Maybe what marriage really needs is a big gay makeover.
Far from endangering marriage, I think such boldness is challenging. For those who love the high ideals of marriage - love and fidelity and persistence - maybe the heterosexual community should be taking notes. Perhaps this embracing of marriage is not an end, but a beginning.
The Rev. Lawrence Lee is celebrating 20 years of pastoral ministry in June and 10 years as the pastor of the United Church of Two Harbors in August. Find him on Facebook at revlawrencelee.