Saturday, June 21, 2008

On marriage

I have just officiated at another wedding. There have been two each month since April. All have involved men and women. As we prepare, we talk about what they want the marriage to mean, why they are getting married in a chapel and why they have a minister. In some ways the last is the easiest to answer. The MIT Chapel and Memorial Church do not invite public officials to officiate at weddings.
I have talked here about the changing nature of the partners: already living together, often interracial, often Asian. What they hold in common is that they take marriage seriously. Tears still flow when vows are exchanged whether they are in English or Chinese.
Some wonder if same sex marriages take away from the institution of marriage. I find it an odd question. Most would think if an increased number of people wanted to participate in a ritual, it mean that the importance of the ritual was increasing. If more people bought fishing licenses few would declare the future of fishing imperiled. The protections marriage as a legal state offers couples are important and should be granted if not by marriage, buy some other recognition. Religious folk who have objections to same sex ceremonies do not have to bless, officiate or even attend, but they do need to think about the message they are sending. Given the emotion these ceremonies elicit, I suspect many do not think much about things; they should.

The greatest danger to marriage is not gay marriage, but the serial monogamy that has become common place in our nation. Those who wish to commit their lives to each other until death parts them remind each of us of the vows we have made to spouses family and friends. My hope is that over the next few years this issue will fade and we will give our attention to those issues that do affect the quality of life in our nation and the world: poverty, endemic violence, war and the need for peace.

Marriage is an important topic of conversation, maybe more important than most realize. If we devalue marriage, by claiming it is only for some and not for all, then the harm we do will be far greater than we suppose. We will also need to think about other matters related to marriage, e.g. would we endorse polygamy? I think not. We have been there and done that and the picture was and is not pretty, cable TV not withstanding.

More importantly, we need to give attention to what marriage is about and how we can bolster its power to create new communities across lines previously impermeable. Religious communities need to think again about what their ceremonies say and mean; when they do it may be that a a conversation about the broader notion of marriage will break out. That would be a good thing!