Dear Big Middle,
Time for the second installment of “Dear Big Middle” blogs, aimed at debunking the anti-same-sex marriage arguments one by one. The goal is to take on one issue at a time, and to speak to the “Big Middle” of the United Methodist Church. (Or, really, anybody I suppose who fancies themselves an undecided “moderate” on the issue.
Today’s entry covers a question I’ve heard time and time again from opponents of same sex marriage: “Same sex marriage cheapens or devalues ‘traditional’ marriage.”
Or, in it’s stronger form: “Same sex marriage is an attack on ‘traditional’ marriage.”
I’m sure you’ve heard this statement from time to time. Maybe you even believe it.
The quick, obvious, and self-evident, answer to this “concern” is that people marry each other, not anyone else, and most certainly not you.
As we established in our last entry, marriage is always between people of consenting age. Period.
Not two people and their families.
Not two people and their church.
Not two people or their minister.
Not two people and the state.
Just two people.
Some weddings are huge. Hundreds or thousands of guests, and sometimes dozens of “attendants” and participants.
But in actual fact, you only have to have three people (in Texas) to perform a wedding: two folks who want to get married, and one person authorized to perform/lead it. (In Texas, “witnesses” are optional, but not required).
When people get married —when anyone gets married— they marry each other. Again, as with “consent,” this is ridiculously obvious once you really think about it. But, as with much about marriage, it doesn’t dawn on a lot of folks.
When I was at my previous church, I did a lot of weddings. Tons. For six years, my job was Single Adult Ministry and, joyfully, there was never a shortage of couples wishing to be married. On top of this, we were required to be part of the “wedding rotation” for folks who didn’t know a specific minister to do their service. So, I would guess that I did 2 to 3 weddings per month for about six years. No kidding.
Maria was very little during this time, and I’d often leave on these Saturday mornings. Maria would ask where I was going, and Dennise would say, “Daddy’s going to marry somebody.”
Needless to say, the linguistics freaked our daughter out a bit. “What?!!! Nooo!”
“No, no!” she’d revise, “He’s going to do the wedding.”
But even that’s not entirely true.
In a wedding —even a Christian one— the basic thing that happens is that the couple marries each other.
The “vows” are the guts of the wedding ceremony. And as everybody knows, they don’t say them to minister. They say them to each other. (Often, with the minister leading them, line-by-line, because they happen to be terrified in that moment).
Let me illustrate by inviting you to watch about fifteen seconds from the trailer of the classic film, “Raising Arizona.” It’s the best wedding scene in cinematic history. Because, in these brief lines of dialogue, you learn all you need to know about what happens at a wedding.
Click here to watch. But don’t blink. (And, come back here after the wedding scene…)
Yep. That’s it. That’s what happens.
1) Two people saying “I do,” or “I will,” and “I take you” to each other. (“Vows” and “Declaration of Intent.”)
2) An officient who basically says, “In so much as they have joined hands, said vows, exchanged rings, they appear to be married.” (“Well, OK then.”)
3) A congregation who witnesses and rejoices.
That’s it. That’s the guts of the whole thing. Notice that minister/officient doesn’t say “I just married these people. Look at how powerful I am!”
What he/she says is of the form “Hey! Look! Isn’t it wonderful that these two just got married?!”
Marriage is not a sacrament in the United Methodist Church. But what happens at a marriage is like what we say happens in Baptism. It’s an “outward and visible sign of an inward and spiritual” love.
The love doesn’t happen in that moment. The love happens in a thousand beautiful moments between the couple that have already happened. The marriage doesn’t happen by what the Church does, or what the State does, or what the minister does. The marriage happens by the beautiful thing that the couple does, in their vows to each other, and through the Spirit of God.
The say, “I love you. And I take you.”
The couple “marries” each other. Period. In the Church, we also add the additional dimension that God is present. Christian marriage is a three-way covenant, between the two people and God. But, not to beat the dead horse, it’s still two people and God; not the two people and their minister and God; two people, their families, friends, church and God; or anyone else.
So, that brings us back to the statement that “Gay marriage cheapens my own marriage.”
The clear answer to this is: No it doesn’t. It can’t. You may believe it does, but the point I am pushing here is that it’s that despite that feeling inside of you that it does, it’s literally not possible for it to do this.
Because all marriages are only between two people, your marriage cannot be uplifted or cheapened by the marriage or any other two human beings, under any known definition of what marriage actually is.
But let me speak to the strong form of the argument. The “gay marriage is an attack on traditional marriage” meme. For this argument to be true, it would have to be provable that what LGBT folks and their allies want is not just marriage for themselves, but also the destruction of “traditional” marriage itself. Blitzkrieg bent on wiping traditional marriage off the planet.
I mean, come on. If you say it’s an attack, then it’s an “attack.”
So, show me some hard evidence of where Christian heterosexual couples are newly prevented from marriage because of same sex marriage?
There may be some cases where people are newly prevented from discriminating against same sex marriage. But there is not one shred of evidence that same sex marriage is anything like the D-Day of traditional marriage. There is not one shred of evidence that it’s affecting traditional marriage at all.
In fact, it’s now provable by just looking at the states where it’s now legal. Same sex marriage is now legal in states where more than one-third of the American population lives. There is no evidence at all to support the idea that traditional couples in these states are facing any new and extreme barriers to getting, or staying, married.
By the way, the Supreme Court noted much of this when it issued its historic ruling in the California case last year. There were groups of “traditional marriage defenders” who claimed that same sex marriage cheapened their marriage, and that they had legal standing to oppose it in court.
But, the Supreme Court said, “No you don’t.”
The Attorney General in Virginia recently said something similar.
So, let me beat the dead horse one final time, and then close before it rots:
When two lesbians or gay men get married, please don’t fret. They’re not marrying you. Their marriage does not, and logically cannot, cheapen yours.
They’re marrying each other. And, just like your love, their love is a beautiful thing.
See you soon with issue number three,
*Of The United Methodist Church. BTW, you will note that I have eliminated the “fat” part of the title. Others suggested it was unduly harsh….
Read the third installment of this series: “Live and Let Live Can Work.”