Do you think that Jerry Kill should be able to marry?
Jerry Kill is the head football coach of the University of Minnesota Golden Gophers. And he’s an epileptic. He’s had at least three seizures since he took over the program last year, and he’s as much known in the state for that as he is for football.
Probably you do think he should be allowed to marry. But less than a century ago, Coach Kill’s marriage to his spouse, Rebecca, would have been prohibited in Minnesota.
Minnesota Statute 8564, passed in 1927, read: “No marriage shall be contracted while either of the parties has a husband or wife living; nor within six months after either has been divorced from a former spouse; nor between parties who are nearer of kin than second cousins, whether of the half or whole blood, computed by the rules of the civil law, nor between persons either one of whom is epileptic, imbecile, feeble minded or insane.”
You read that right. From 1905 until 1977, epileptics were forbidden to marry in Minnesota.
The marriage laws were revisited by our state legislature in 1977. Thereafter, epileptics and the “feeble minded” were allowed to marry, as were first cousins from indigenous people groups—it seems that the state legislature recognized that different cultures have different standards for marriage.
Then, in 1997 (Statute 517.03), marriage among same-gendered persons was prohibited for the first time, with the passage of the Minnesota Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA).
It’s been one month since the voters of Minnesota rejected an amendment to our state constitution that would have defined marriage as exclusively between a man and a woman, effectively denying gay and lesbian citizens the right to marry in perpetuity. Voters in Washington, Maine, and Maryland approved same sex marriage, and marriage licenses are being issued today.
As a Christian theologian, I find the rejection of this amendment an exceedingly wise choice by our collective citizenry, for it acknowledges the fact that “marriage” changes over time. And it leaves open the possibility for our legislature to make changes, as they’ve done in the past.
Because, let’s be honest, most of us would find it morally unacceptable if Coach Kill, or any other epileptic, were forbidden to marry in our state.
But it’s not just in state law that the definition of marriage has evolved. It’s also evolved in society. And – watch out for lightening bolts – in the Bible.
Many supporters of the marriage amendment referred to marriage between a man and a woman as “biblical marriage,” but anyone who possesses even a passing acquaintance with the Hebrew and Christian scriptures can recognize that marriage evolves in those texts.
Written over thousands of years in dozens of cultural settings, the books of the Bible do not contain a univocal version of marriage. Therein, we read about Abijah, “He took 14 wives, and became the father of 22 sons and 16 daughters” (2 Chronicles 13:21). That wasn’t unusual in the 6th century BC. But by the time of Jesus, monogamous marriage was more common than polygamy. And a couple decades after Jesus, the Apostle Paul urged widows and the single people to stay unmarried (2 Corinthians 7:8-9). How’s that for “family values”?
I myself am divorced and remarried, an activity that Jesus specifically condemned (he was silent regarding homosexuality). And yet even the most conservative churches have made peace with the reality that people like me exist, and that we can actually serve the purposes of the kingdom of God.
Marriage changes. It’s a fact.
I’m gratified that Jerry Kill is able to marry, even though he suffers from seizures. I’m glad that I have found joy in my second marriage.
And I look forward to the day when my gay and lesbian friends will be able to marry in Minnesota.