John S. Lewis, a senior Methodist minister, wrote a letter to the GF Tribune editor confronting the political “outrage” about same sex marriage which defines marriage as legal sex and can think of nothing else. He points out the greater anguish of having to pretend in order to be married. After reading the letter, I began to think in a deeper way that broke open the whole subject. Here are Rev. Lewis’ remarks followed by my reflections. He gave me permission to use his letter.
Gay marriage is a deciding factor in the upcoming presidential election. Therefore I share the folloiwng:
During my 60 years as a Methodist minister, I have performed many weddings. Among those weddings, I unknowingly performed ceremonies for gay men and women to straight partners. That’s the way we did it, and it still happens today.
Performing a legal marriage that unites a gay person with a straight person creations a union that has no hope for the fulfillment of human love. It forces the gay person to look elsewhere for sexual satisfaction, and the straight person becomes frustrated with the inability to fulfill their partner’s needs. Both are laden with guilt, and the conflict within such a union can never be totally ignored or hidden. The incompatibility becomes the cause of separation and divorce, adversely affecting the children born into such a union. Sadly, some churches and political parties want to continue this practice.
I support the marriage of same-gender people. Being gay does not limit a person’s need or ability to love. Gay people deserve a legal marriage contract that promotes longevity of relationships and provides all of the advantages currently offered to opposite-gender marriages. Gay people deserve the opportunity to raise and adopt children when they meet the same standards required of any other person.
Therefore I am available to counsel gay couples and publicly bless their relationships.
When I was active in the ministry, I too performed weddings without inquiring much about gender identification. But gradually, I began to feel about all weddings the way Ralph Waldo Emerson felt about Communion -- that I just couldn’t perform the ceremony anymore. That it was a great hypocrisy and far too confused to hold anyone to account for any aspect of it. Vows had little to do with it.
Marriage has always been an uncomfortable mix of church and state, from the decision to require all priests to be unmarried, to the convenient arrangements of Henry VIII, to Elizabeth Taylor’s insistence on legalities. Now I will happily officiate at a burial, funeral or memorial and do my very best, but I will NOT do weddings. My excuse is that those legally qualified to certify a marriage and sign the marriage certificate are only those who are authorized by a congregation. I have no congregation anymore. (Doctors certify deaths. Clergy do not.) In some faith traditions (Quaker) the actual congregation comes up and signs the license. (I assume they use the back as well as the two lines for officiant and witness.)
It’s interesting that the state requires a marriage license and that an ordained minister, a justice of the peace, or a ship captain can fulfill that license simply by signing it, asserting that the two people agree to the marriage. I assume that these three categories of people are thought to have some level of credibility and trustworthiness. They are not mail-order ministers. The license needs to be dated so that the law can determine at what point the new status affects property and accountability.
The state wants marriage to be a legal contract in order to maintain clarity and accountability about the ownership of property and the raising of children. Where to send the tax bill and where to send the truant officer. On the frontiers where there was no particular record-keeping, baptismal records were kept by Christian clergy and that formed a base for records. Hudson’s Bay factors and Indian agents also kept useful records.
In times and places where women and children were considered the property of the male, to dispose of and keep discipline among as he saw fit, and where women were not allowed to own property -- well, these situations linger on in many places. Consider the Middle East. But the shadow of these assumptions still persist in the USA, especially in small homogenous groups which it would be more diplomatic not to name.
When I was young, there was a good deal of resentment of marriage licenses. People said it was just a piece of paper and what business did the State have intruding into an intimate relationship? In novels the two parties would exchange vows they invented in solitude and declare that it was valid in the eyes of God. Humans could just butt out. But that was before weddings became coming of age ceremonies that cost thousands of dollars, only to be ended by divorce before the bills were paid. Certainly before any thank you letters were written for the loot specified at the best stores.
Weddings and marriages are two separate things. A marriage, which may be only recognized by the “common law” after years of cohabitation, is a partnership between two people who can sustain a relationship over a long period of time for a host of reasons: personal compatibility, money, convenience, shared children, shared property like a house or a business, a lack of any other options. After a period of sustained time, the law accepts this. In Montana there is a schedule for how to split the assets if they finally part company. The longer the woman sticks, the bigger share she gets. (It does not stipulate who gets the dog.)
What choice does the law have? Why are all the people so ragingly upset about same sex marriage or different-skin-color marriage evidently not very worried about the casual cohabitations of people of every kind? Pity the poor judge who has to sort out some of today’s households. What do they do about all these floating boyfriends with no jobs who are expected to babysit -- with lethal consequences? And the babies in question -- well, “question” is the word, like, where are the fathers?
But that’s the youngsters with their experiments. What about oldsters where the two people have informal arrangements for economic reasons? There may be affectionate ties, one may take are of the other, but things don’t always work out so harmoniously.
Gender identity -- which is not at all the same thing as sexual desire or practices -- has turned out to be increasingly confused, and I’m not talking about cross-dressing and anatomically inclusive he/shes or surgical switches. I mean, at the genomic level somehow a person can look anatomically like one end of this binary we’ve culturally created but feel like the other end. No one understands it.
All a person needs for good sex is skin and a brain. That’s my formal position. One can be a dwarf or gay or transsexual or whatever. (Siamese twins count as two, right? They do get married and have babies.) All one needs to break up a marriage is greed, insecurity, immaturity, belligerence and so on, though mostly Dear Abby hears about sexual cheating even when both parties are straight. How about a drug habit, kept secret in the same way that homosexuality used to be? Should we refuse to perform a wedding between a smoker and nonsmoker? Should we refuse eunuchs? (Not an idle question for maimed IED victims who are commonly damaged in a sitting position.) Should we refuse terrifically obese people? We don’t refuse to allow convicted murderers to marry though they will never have sexual privileges.
So here’s my bottom line: Best wishes to all sweethearts, however assorted. Use common sense. Tell the truth. I will not perform a wedding. ANY wedding. You will have to build your own marriage over many years. Negotiate your own pre-nupt contract, maybe with a lawyer, and make sure you read the state law about your new status. You might be quite surprised. Do not own another human being, even if it was pulled out of your own body. (You can have your body back when the nursing is over, but not your heart.) Protect all children.
Human relationships are mysterious, powerful, and negotiable. I bless them all. And I bless John S. Lewis for taking a stand.