Thursday, June 27, 2013

Must We Rethink Marriage after the End of DOMA?

                Yesterday was a momentous one for the United States.  It took another important step toward full recognition of gay marriage.  In striking down the Defense of Marriage Act, the Supreme Court recognized what a majority of Americans recognize – the train has left the station.  Thirteen states, including two of the three most populous states in the Union have or will have in short order provided for marriage equality.  The thirteen states that allow gay marriage, including California, represent about 25% of the nation’s population.  I expect other states including one I grew up in (Oregon) and the one in which I currently live (Michigan), will join this movement in short order.  I’ve commented already on some of the implications in an earlier post – immediately following the announcements --

It will take time for this to spread across the country, but even as we would think it inappropriate to ban interracial marriage today in time gay marriage will become commonplace.  Not all will agree, and religious organizations like churches, mosques, synagogues, and Temples will not and should not be required to bless what they deem inappropriate.    

For many co-religionists, yesterday was a day of defeat.  Many Christians feel like they’ve lost their moral edge; that the nation no longer affirms their values.  I understand their feelings, because I once shared them.  My own reading of Scripture and my own sense of God’s intention for human relationships was defined by the marriage of a man and a woman.  Not only did I take this from Scripture, but it seemed to be the way of nature – the way things fit. 

Over time, due to my encounters with LGBT people, including close family members, I’ve had to rethink my understanding of the nature of human relationships.  I’ve come to embrace same-gender marriages, because I’ve come understand that we’re not all wired the same.  Our sexual identities are spread across a continuum.  Some of us are firmly attracted to members of the opposite gender.  Others to the same gender and some are attracted to both.  And I might add; some folks may be asexual.  That is, no sexual attraction to men or women.  This diversity of experience poses dilemmas for us, because we tend to organize society around specific norms.  Since opposite-gender attraction fits the majority of the world’s population, we’ve assumed that to be the norm.  It may be the “norm,” but does that make the one who doesn’t fit this norm abnormal?  Yes, this is a complicated issue.

 So in the light of the two Supreme Court decisions of June 26, 2013, what should we do with marriage?  I expect many will hold to “traditional” definitions, and that is their right.  Others of us have already begun to rethink the nature of marriage, and this decision only gives us further impetus to pursue new understandings of marriage.

Since I’m quite open about my support of gay marriage, I have to discern what this means for marriage in general.  If our Western society has presumed male-female marriage, and if we turn to the biblical story for support – including Genesis 2 – what about same-gender marriage?  I will admit there are fewer biblical texts to be used in such weddings.  I just did a wedding this past Saturday.  I appealed Genesis 2, “bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh” as foundational to the relationship.  That passage doesn’t quite have the same message in the context of same-gender marriage, and yet it does.

Genesis 2 speaks of relationships – the need for intimacy – physical, spiritual, emotional.  God saw that the man was lonely and ended creating the woman.  But, what if in some cases God has allowed that loneliness to be filled differently.  Note that in this story none of the animals filled the need – it was the one who shared bone and flesh who filled the need.  I this need for intimacy can be fulfilled outside of marriage – in deep non-sexualized friendships.  But for many of us, there is a need for a deeper intimacy that the sexual bond fulfills.       

So how do we re-envision marriage in a way that makes sense of the need of some for same-gender intimacy?   In short, my answer is really the same as is true for the marriage of between women and men.  Marriage is a covenant relationship.  It is a commitment before God to leave behind all other relationships and cleave to the other.  I realize that marriage is said to be going out of style.  No longer does one have to get married to have sex – or at least to do so respectably.  So why get married, especially when so many marriages end in divorce?  Let’s just see where this goes. 

Cheryl and I will celebrate thirty years of marriage in the next two weeks.  It’s been good, but not always easy.  She’s my closest friend and my confidant, but we don’t always agree and we can get frustrated with each other.  Why have we stayed together through thick and thin?  Is it the paper we received from the state or the benefits we receive from the government?  No, it’s the covenant we made with each other, and with God, to have and to hold, from this day forward -- in sickness and heath, in poverty and in prosperity -- till death do us part.  I believe that this same covenant relationship that Cheryl and I have shared can be the foundation for committed, sexually exclusive same gender marriages. 

Marriage isn’t about the paper – it’s about the commitment to remain true to the other no matter what.  I'm always in awe of those persons who've been married sixty and even seventy years.  I know they've faced difficult times.  They may have stopped liking each other on occasion, but they've stayed on that path together for so long they're almost intertwined with one another.  And you know after sixty years, I doubt it's all about the sex.  I think it's about the relationship.  What is true for folks like them, certainly can be true for those who share the same gender.  
Yes, we’ll have to have some conversations about what all this means going forward, because as they say “the train has left the station.”  We’ll not be going back to what was.     


John McCauslin said...

Just a cole of observations.

Genesis 2, "bone of my bone..." The quote and context do not compel opposite gender marital relationships. Recall that here God has been looking for an appropriate companion for Adam. God initially suggests a number of beasts as potential partners. According to Scripture, the role of man's marital companion is not by nature even human/human, let alone male/female! Adam's companion was discovered by trial and error, not by natural deduction.

And I don't think we should place too much weight on Eve's creation from Adam's rib. Whether one reads this creation story as allegorical or factual, the logical deduction from this aspect of the story is that our choice if marital partner should be based on gestation and not gender, that we should marry our children, regardless of gender. No one would reasonably argue this conclusion!

On another point, you noted that "after 60 years its not about the sex." After 30 years its not about the sex either. It's about the covenant that gets you through the hard times, and in the good times it's about the wholeness one feels being united to another on an emotional and spiritual level. There is no logical reason to conclude that such wholeness is bound up in opposite gender attraction. While sexual intimacy can and usually does contribute to the deepening of this bond, in time and as our relationships mature the other aspects of the relationship become so much more important.

And, by the way, congratulations, from both Anne and I, to,you and Cheryl! 1983 was a very good year to get married!

John McCauslin said...

Oh, and I left out this: in my own thirty year marriage I have held myself accountable to God as well as to my partner. I don't know if God willed us together, but I suspect it is so. But I am certain that God has willed us to remain together. I have felt this truth affirmed time and again when I have asked for help, and I have asked for signs directing me forward. And the help I received, and the signs I have witnessed uniformly pointed towards re-focus and re-commitment to our future together. I believe in my heart that if God wanted us to part, the signs would have pointed that way - God knows some people should not be together (after all choice of spouse is a human decision, just as prone to flaw as any other human decision) and God permits and sometimes even encourages people to separate.

I stopped asking for signs long ago, now I just pray for help, a lot!

HiHopes said...

we all seek to serve any who desire to marry, recognize and embrace
their covenant between each other, regardless of their gender,
identification. Peace my brother.

bobcornwall said...

Yes, 1983 was a good year to get married!! Congrats to you and Anne as well -- and to all who celebrate numbers 30, 40, 50, 60, and perhaps even 70 years in 2013!

I do think that the key to coming to grips with this question is to focus on the nature of covenant, something we don't even do a good job with in regard to "opposite-gender" marriage. We often treat marriage as a legal contract defined by the state. It may be that, but it is clearly more than that for Christians (and assumedly for Jews and other faith communities). Covenant is something entered into in partnership with God!

bobcornwall said...

Thanks Hope!