A version of this article was originally posted on the Chicago Tribune “The Seeker” religion blog in response to the December 2010 enactment of Civil Unions in Illinois. Of course, the sentiments are also appropriate to the demise of sections of DOMA!
Today is a great day for love and commitment.
The last decade’s progress from civil unions to impending marriage equality is an unmitigated good.
If politicians restricted their work to taxes and zoning, philosophical organizations like my congregation would have little to say. The more politicians make government impose their standards of personal behavior, personal choices and personal beliefs, the more a moral community feels the need to articulate its values in the public square. One of the most innovative arguments on this question claims that the religious freedom of liberal communities—from Humanistic and Reform synagogues to Unitarian and Methodist churches—to recognize same-sex couples as married is being restricted. Why shouldn’t a religious community be able to call a couple whom they consider married, “married?”
There is a short answer to this problem: the legal status granted to couples by the state is a “civil marriage” (granted to the civitas, or citizen) for everyone, and the status recognized by religious institutions can be called “marriage” but carry no legal benefits. This might not solve all issues, but it would certainly clarify the questions involved. This would be analogous to the governmental perspective on who is clergy—whomever a religious community recognizes as a minister is a minister.
An important moment for me on this question was the first gay commitment ceremony at which I officiated. It was for the child of a member of my congregation who had found a wonderful and loving partner with whom he wanted to build a life. The couple wanted their family and friends to see them declare their commitment to each other, and they wanted help articulating what this moment meant. Preparing for the ceremony, I realized that I was using the same language of love, commitment, and mutual support that I’ve used hundreds of times in conventional wedding ceremonies. The only real difference was that we didn’t have the paperwork to prove it. Before that moment, my perspective was theoretical and intellectual, but since then it has also been personal.
The love and commitment and support I receive from my wife are little different from what same-sex partnerships give to each other. And now the legal, financial and personal security we have enjoyed automatically since our wedding is increasingly available to our relatives, friends and neighbors. There are still steps to take, but great leaps have already been taken.
Indeed, today is a great day for love.