Dearly Beloved

by Rev. Dr. Edward Frost

Presented 2011 May 29 before the congregation of Mountain Light Unitarian Universalist Church in Cherry Log GA.

"Dearly beloved, we are gathered here in the sight of God and this company to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony, which is an estate ordained by God and sanctioned by the state."

That, give or take a few words, is the opening of the wedding ceremony as found in most traditional Service books and as used by most traditional Christians. It contains the propositions in the issue likely to continue to be one of the most controversial and divisive of this era.

The propositions are that matrimony--marriage--is an "estate"--that is, a "condition under which persons live," which is ordained by God and sanctioned by--that is, authorized by the state.

A Wedding is one thing. Marriage is something else. Clergy conduct wedding ceremonies. Only couples can make a marriage.

Marriage is an arrangement based on certain agreed-upon, largely culturally-determined ways in which two persons live together.

Their intention is, generally, to share living space, to be partners in their future, and, in most cases, to raise children together. There are usually contracts involved, some imposed by the state in which the marriage is initiated--to protect the rights of each person and to protect any children of the marriage.

Some contracts are legally-drawn between the couple (such as prenuptial agreements) and some contracts are unspoken, implicit (such as, "I will be this and you will be that).

Now, two people--or several, if so inclined--can live together without legal license to do so. They can insist that they are married "in the eyes of God" or "by nature." And that's all well and good unless they attempt to take that marriage to market, to school, or to the mortgage company.

The unromantic reality is that the state does determine who can use the term "married" and who cannot--at least, and gain any material benefit from doing so. So, on what basis does the state stick it's non-too-attractive nose into all that romance and loveliness apparent at the wedding?

And, pressed to the present extreme, where does the state get off declaring that marriage is not simply between two persons but specifically between one male and one female person?

And where does the state get off deciding when marriage is no longer workable and can be dissolved? Can't two adults be trusted to do what is best for them?

Well, you and I know that quite a few adults cannot, in fact, be trusted to do what is best for them, let alone for someone else. But the state's position is that, adult or not, even adults--and the state determines who is an adult--even adults cannot be trusted to do what is best for the public good.

"...for the public good."

Here's the sticky part. Who decides what is for the public good? Of course, theoretically, we the citizens, define the public good: but let's get back to that. What about the assumption that traditional, heterosexual marriage is for the public good and is the only acceptable model? After all, it is on the basis of this assumption that the Bush administration enacted the "Defense of Marriage Act "fifteen years ago. "Doma," for short.

The "Defense of Marriage Ace" was struck down by a Federal judge last year in Massachusetts as unconstitutional.

The Federal Defense of Marriage Act defines marriage as a legal union between one man and one woman for purposes of all federal laws, and provides that states need not recognize a marriage from another state if it is between persons of the same sex.

Thirty-seven states have their own Defense of Marriage Acts Several states have strong language that defines marriage as one man and one woman. There are thirty states that have constitutional amendments protecting traditional marriage.

Two months ago the Obama administration declared that it would no longer defend the Act and the Justice Department withdrew it's challenge. However, House Speaker, John Boener declared that the House would hire a private lawyer, using funds from the the Justice Department Budget, to defend the constitutionality of the Law.

This means, of course, that the defense of the act would be paid for by our taxes.

The "private lawyer," was King and Spaulding of Atlanta, whose fees are $500 an hour.

In this continuing farce, King and Spaulding dropped their defense of the Defense of Marriage Act. That led one of their most prominent partners, Paul Clement, to resign from the firm immediately and join another law firm in order to continue to defend the act.

Each of us should loudly complain to our representatives that public funds are being used to defend this unconstitutional action. It is nothing but blatant political pandering to such entities as the Tea Party and the religious right.

If you have access the the internet and specifically to Facebook you will find several opportunities to petition Boehner and President Obama to scuttle this outrageous Act.

The official line is that Marriage needs this "boost" of the Defense of Marriage Act because marriage and the family are currently in grave danger from advocates of same--sex marriage and heterosexual marriage and the family, they insist, are the "bedrock" of our national, public health and well being.

The fact is that, as Maria Russo puts it in her article "The Marriage Hoax," "...marriage has always been a shaky, contested, unreliable institution, and we're kidding ourselves that it was ever any other way."

We may despair of the moral state of the nation, but there is no evidence whatsoever that that state is any worse than it was fifty years ago. A large contingent of citizens has always despaired of the moral state of the nation.

In his "love alters not when it alteration finds Sonnet," Shakespeare wrote that rather love should "bear it out even to the edge of doom." Well, what a happy marriage that must be.

Pure nonsense, of course.

Love that does not alter when it means, for example, staying with a brutal, abusive partner, is not love but either fear or obsession which, too often, does end in doom for the abused.

It is a strange position to take, it seems to me, that we would all be better off if people who cannot bear each other were forced to remain married.

So, bottom line, marriage is not the rock stable institution it is often advertised to be and actually never has been.

As for the sanctity of marriage and its spiritual value to our culture--the so-called "sacred institution between a man and a woman"--to be preserved at all costs, let me just say this--Britney Spears.

As you may recall, one of pop-culture's finest, Britney Spears, and a fellow named Jason Alexander, (not Seinfeld's side-side-kick) buzzed off to a little wedding chapel a couple of years ago and, on a lark, got married. Legally. Really married.

The marriage lasted for fifty-five hours--and was annulled.

A columnist Ellen Goodman, suggested at the time Britney and Jason may have done more for gay marriage than all the gay rights advocates put together.

Assorted folk chimed in with the same thought: "Hey, a man and woman can get married on a lark," the say "but when a committed gay couple wants to make it legal, they're accused of wrecking the institution."

I say all this about marriage simply to fly the facts in the face of those who say that same-sex marriage will weaken and de-stabilize traditional marriage. The reality is clearly that traditional marriage has managed to be de-sanctified and destabilized quite well without the presence of same sex couples in its midst.

So why should those on the outside of this institution want to get in? Because--although marriage is obviously not for everyone--marriage is, actually, "a good thing."

And, after all, believe it or not, I am speaking for marriage this morning. Let's keep in mind that, while fifty percent of marriages end in divorce, fifty percent do not--and for that fifty percent marriage is a way of living that blesses and helps to support loving and supportive relationship.

As George Eliot wrote in a frequently chosen wedding ceremony "What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined together to strengthen each other in all labor, to minister to each other in all sorrow, "to share with each other in all gladness, to be one with each other in silent unspoken memories?"

Again, it isn't necessary to have a wedding ceremony or to jump through the state's hoops to enjoy this promise and quality of relationship.

But there is no question but that public declaration of an intention to enter into a long-term partnership, to share responsibilities and to care for each other has its value for many people; if this is what is meant by "being married," then marriage provides the structure to hold those promises and intentions and helps to preserve and support them.

Happily married people--people in that bond of relatedness--have been shown to live longer and healthier lives than the unmarried, unrelated population in general.

And, there is no question that the legal marriage does safeguard to some extent the rights of married persons and to some extent protects children of the marriage.

Here's the rub: None of this needs to have or ought to have anything to do with the race, color--or gender of the married persons. Why on earth should John and George or Harriet and Julia not enjoy for the rest of their lives together (or for as long as they mutually desire) all the rights, privileges, and protections that Britney and Jason enjoyed for fifty-five hours?

Because same sex relationships are an abomination in the sight of God?

What is in the sight of God is in the eyes of the beholder and ought to have nothing whatsoever to do with what is legal or illegal. If any religion chooses to deny same sex partners the benefit of clergy, that's their business.

Same sex marriage would undermine and devalue traditional marriage? Please.

Again, people have been undermining and devaluing traditional marriage for centuries without the help of same-sex partners. There is not a whisker of evidence that same-sex unions, legal or not, have any affect whatsover on "traditional marriage."

The Bible, the Koran, our Sacred Scriptures do not support marriage between men or between women? Anyone who uses this argument must be suggesting that our laws ought to grounded in religious faith.

"Sacred Scripture" undergirding of over-riding civic law. The "Defense of Marriage Act" is, I believe, clearly unconstitutional in that there is no ground for denying same sex marriage other than religion.

So, putting aside any religious grounding--or a federal law--for the assumption that marriage is exclusively between a man and a woman what's left as argument against same sex marriage?

If what is left after constitutionally irrelevant arguments are discounted is "marriage is between a man and a woman because--because it just is. Well, that just won't do. We won't have it. That, too, we shall overcome.

Laws against same sex marriage are grounded in the benighted agreement of the majority of the citizens of the nation (and the collusion of their their elected representatives) that it's a bad thing and we're against it--much like the laws saying people of color may not drink out certain water fountains or sit in the front of the bus and that women may not vote were based on common agreement.

I've been around long enough to remember how unthinkable it was, for most people, that people of different races would marry.

In many places, during my professional lifetime, it would be inviting the worst kind of violence for a black person to marry a white person. For that matter, I've been around long enough to remember how unthinkable it was, for many people, for people of different religions to marry.

Therefore, I suggest that there is nothing absolute at all about marriage being only between a man and a woman.

Whatever laws there are or will be asserting such a thing are not ordained of God or grounded in nature but are expressive of un-evolved public views and values.

And public views and values change when enough citizens change their opinions and advise their representatives That the laws no longer represent their values.

That's our job as citizens. And that's our responsibility as people of faith who believe in the civil rights of all people--To make sure our elected representatives--Presidents, Speakers, and high ranking members of Congress--know without a shadow of a doubt what our opinions are.

I am encouraged by the words of the Supreme Court of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts as it upheld the decision of a lower court supporting same sex marriage.

In the words of her decision, Massachusetts Supreme Court Justice Margaret Marshall said, "For no rational reason the marriage laws of the Commonwealth discriminate against a defined class; no amount of tinkering with language will eradicate than stain."

And, in case that wasn't clear to some, she went on to say, "Barred access to the protections, benefits and obligations of civil marriage, a person who enters into an intimate exclusive union with another of the same sex is arbitrarily deprived of membership in one our community's most rewarding and cherished institutions."

Whether or not the ruling stands, of course, remains to be seen. I fear that much of the social and moral progress our nation has made may be under severe challenges in the coming era.

But the movement now in several states for the freedom of gay couples to marry--in spite of the Defense of Marriage Act--is clearly the shape of things to come.

I conducted the first same sex wedding to be held in the chapel of Emory University. The University Board of Trustees and the president of the University castigated me, in person and in the newspaper--falling back on the religious values of the Christian foundation of the university.

But the wedding was held--with added guests from the Atlanta police department for protection of me, the wedding party and guests. It was a lovely wedding.

I have conducted same sex weddings for many years and I intend to continue to do so when asked.

I can't sign their wedding licenses as an agent of the state and give loving couples who wish to publicly proclaim their commitment the same rights, protections, and privileges as I give other people I marry.

But, as far as I'm concerned, they will be as "married" as any other couple who stand before me, and their friends and family, and their household gods and proclaim their love, fidelity, and care.

And if, some day, if one of my grandchildren should become a minister, or a judge, or, better yet, the captain of a garbage scow, I believe that he will be able to celebrate the wedding of John and George or Harriet and Julia, sign their license, sending them off into marital bliss for as long as love shall last.

And, as Shakespear's Sonnet ends: "If this be error and upon me proved, I never writ, nor no [person] ever loved."