Yesterday I wrote a tribute to my late wife on what would have been our anniversary. She was a special person, and I was lucky to know her, and to be loved by her. But right now I want to talk about how we got married, and how that could be applied to one of the more contentious issues of today.
We’re in the middle of a culture war about marriage. One side says marriage is a civil right. Others vehemently dispute this. One symptom is that if you perform a Google search looking for the words for a marriage ceremony you find that the ads down the side are from proponents of gay marriage. Neither side seems willing to give an inch.
There are very good arguments that marriage provides a family structure, helps to protect and provide for children, and provides role models, and so on. On the other side are endless horror stories of “normal” families with abusive parents, parents who don’t tolerate children becoming who they want or need to be, and almost anything else that you can imagine, and possibly a few you can’t. Some say that marriage is for children, and point out that homosexual couples can’t reproduce without an outsider. Yet my wife and I never had children – but we were certainly married.
Let’s set the Wayback Machine to 1988. My brother had recently graduated from a bible college, and we had talked him into performing the marriage ceremony as his first wedding. However, the school that he graduated from didn’t ordain graduates until they were called to a church. So my brother was a preacher without a license, and couldn’t legally marry us.
The solution? We got a marriage license, visited a justice of the peace in Virginia to get legally married, and then went to Chicago for a wedding. I humbly submit that everybody should do the same thing.
The interest in the state in a marriage is all of the legal things- Property, care and custody of children, inheritance (property again,) rights to access things like insurance, visitation rights at a hospital, the right to make decisions for a partner who is incapacitated, and taxes (property yet again.) All of these things were established for my wife and me by the time we walked out the door of the justice of the peace. But we wanted a WEDDING. A ceremony, before God, family and friends that publicly showed we were bound together as a couple for all time. I suspect most people who love each other in an exclusive partnership want the same thing.
A wedding is primarily a religious affair. Even for most of those who have no faith in a higher power, the traditional wedding has the trappings of the religious origin of the ceremony. (Relax, I’m too lazy to write a thousand words on all of the religious underpinnings and symbolism.) The union of two people is for the state. The wedding and marriage is for the people. This is the crux of the matter.
The state needs paperwork. The couple need a marriage. Those are TWO DIFFERENT THINGS. So treat them as two different things. Let any two consenting adults not already in a civil union go before the state and contract for a civil union. That is, get a license and visit a judge or justice of the peace or mayor or whatever civil official the state appoints. At that point the state is done. Legally a couple exists.
If the couple wants a wedding and to celebrate the creation of a marriage, that is a religious issue. Go find a willing clergyperson. No, you don’t have a right to force a particular preacher who doesn’t believe in gay marriage to perform one. Nor does a straight couple have the right to force someone who doesn’t believe in straight marriage to perform one. But there are LOTS of people out there who claim to speak for God in one form or another. Find one who is willing.
Civil unions for everyone. Marriage for those who want it. Everyone’s rights are protected.
It worked for us.