When Courtney and I were married by Doug Pagitt at Solomon’s Porch in July, 2011, there were no legal documents signed. The State of Minnesota and Hennepin County were not invited to our wedding. Our parents, my kids, other family and friends all celebrated just as joyously as any other wedding (maybe even moreso), and no one asked when we were going to sign the legal contracts required by the state for our marriage to be sanctioned by the government.
I’m guessing that no one thought twice about that because we could get legally married any time we wanted. Many of our friends, however, could not. That meant that their marriage ceremonies, while sacred, did not have the potential to be legal. It was for this reason that Courtney and I decided to forego legal marriage until such time as our GLBT friends were afforded all of the benefits that accrue with a legal marriage. (In Minnesota alone, that was estimated to be 515 benefits.) [Read more...]
I realize that it is a grandiose claim to say that, regarding marriage equality, I stand on the right side of history. But that’s exactly what I felt as I stood in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol and held vigil with thousands of others as the State Senate debated HF 1054, extending the right to marry to same sex couples. At 4:19pm, it passed 37-30, and today at 5pm, Governor Mark Dayton will sign it into law.
I stood alongside Doug Pagitt, Jay Bakker, and Russell Rathbun, fellow (straight, white, male) Minnesota clergymen who also support marriage equality. Dozens of clergy were in the crowd, based on the number of clerical shirts I saw. Many of them stood in the middle, leading songs — we were along the edge of the crowd, greeting people we know. Also there were Courtney with her camera (see above), Wendy Johnson and her daughter, our friends Bryan and Scott, and other friends and acquaintances. We were receiving news about the speeches inside the Senate chambers via text message and Twitter.
Marriage equality is a civil rights issue.
On a flight last week, I sat next to a conservative Pentecostal pastor. We talked about demons and miraculous healings. And, probably to the consternation of those around us, argued vociferously about “marriage.” He was, like so many conservative evangelicals these days, in favor of civil unions for GLBT persons. But not “marriage.” No, “marriage” is something totally different, he told me.
Of course, he’s wrong. “Marriage” is nothing more than a word, composed of an assortment of letter — symbols with correlated vocal sounds. The definition of that word has changed since it was first used in English, and it changed over time in the many other languages that preceded English.
We invest words with meaning. That’s exactly what he’s hoping to do with the combination of words, “civil” and “union.” He wants that combo to mean something, and “marriage” to mean something else. That’s fine. But to suggest that the meaning that we’ve invested in the combination of letters m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e is almost shockingly naive.
Take Geoff Nunberg, the linguist for NPR’s Fresh Air. His most recent commentary is about how dictionaries are dealing with the on-the-ground changes to the word, “marriage”:
It seems that I disagree with Tim Dalrymple on lots and lots of stuff. Nevertheless, it’s been interesting watching him publicly wrestle with the question of whether his evangelical abhorrence of gay sex should be codified in anti-same-sex-marriage laws. First, he asked, Is it time for evangelicals to stop opposing gay marriage?
the question at hand is not whether we should abandon the historical Christian teaching on marriage. The question is whether we should contend for laws and regulations that give this vision of marriage the sanction of government. And to make one more distinction: the question is not whether Christians have the right to promote their views, just like everyone else does, and to support or oppose laws on any grounds they wish, including religious grounds. There’s nothing categorically wrong with supporting laws and politicians who recognize and affirm what marriage actually is, even if your view of marriage is religiously informed. The question, rather, is whether it is still wise to press for American law to recognize only heterosexual unions.
There are about a million and one caveats in that post. Tim knew he was going to be hammered by his fellow evangelicals. He furthered his questions and clarification in a second post, Ten things I believe about evanvelicals and same-sex marriage:
The Public Religion Research Institute has a new study out on abortion opinions in America. In some ways, the results are not surprising: a solid majority of Americans think that abortions should be legal and available; evangelical Protestants are the least likely to think so.
But other conclusions are more surprising:
Mark Jordan, professor of divinity at Harvard Divinity School, writes at Religion Dispatches about how he has answered journalists’ questions when they call him for a quote about sexuality issues in the church. He often found the journalists to be dumbfounded because, even though the journalists might be progressive themselves, they had, to a man, bought the conservative line that the conservative version was the authoritative version of the biblical narrative. He would say,
“I support ordaining openly lesbian and gay candidates because that’s where I’m led when I study scripture and pray.”
“My belief in incarnation pushes me toward the blessing of same-sex unions.”
The reaction was mostly awkward silence. I could hear the typing stop at the other end of the line.
So I decided to attack the assumed familiar plot directly—to go after the division, enshrined by Steinfels, between tradition and innovation. I began to tell reporters what I fully believe: no present church position on sexuality would be recognizable to Christian writers of two hundred years ago—much less two millennia ago. Part of the reason is that the basic terms and psychological models have changed astonishingly in the last century. All Christian writers, even the most “traditional,” assume the existence of things (like “sexuality”) and mechanisms (like the unconscious) that are neither scriptural nor traditional. But the more striking difference is the scope contemporary “traditionalists” give to sexual pleasure in marriage. Evangelical writers famous for attacking homosexuality write pillow books for Christian newlyweds advocating sexual techniques that church traditions classify as unchaste and unnatural—indeed, as acts of sodomy.