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Marriage for All

by Jo Page on June 29, 2011

A friend who knew I’d performed some same-sex union ceremonies well before my denomination had permitted such things advised me to “hang out my shingle” once the gay marriage bill had been passed in New York.

He’s right. Right? I mean, I could easily be your go-to girl for same-sex weddings. And in fact, the wonderful pastor who presided at my wedding several years ago was someone whose union ceremony I had presided at the previous year. The truth is, I look forward to marrying people for whom marriage is neither a rote convention nor an opportunity to for the enacting of fairy-tale fantasies. (Lose the bustles and the attitudes, girls. Did I just say that? Hell, I did.)

And though I was in Massachusetts when the bill was passed and I heard the news the following day, I sat in the parking lot of Shaw’s supermarket in Gloucester and found myself crying when NPR broadcast Andrew Cuomo’s statements. True, the sixth state, I thought, but the largest state so far.

This is a battle won. Yet there are more ahead. Let us count the states.

And as gleeful as I am that Mayor Jennings wants to be in on the ground floor of the same-sex nuptial ceremonies, I hope he’d allow us renegade clergy who have fought this fight a considerable chunk of time, both legally and theologically, to beat him to the finish line. At least a few times. Then he can marry away. Let’s hope for a fruitful season or so of weddings. Plenty to go around.

Because now, at last, the act of marrying has the opportunity to become less politicized. The time has come for marriage to become, more appropriately, a matter of personal concern.

I’m not getting up on a soap-box here–though I probably have more qualifications than many: I’ve married nearly a hundred couples and have had a couple of marriages myself. Which leads me to the salient point: The state has no business in telling who can marry whom if both are of the age of genuine consent. The church? Well, there are churches and then there are churches. Having said that, I think one of the major advances in the passage of the gay marriage bill is that maybe now the question of marriage can become less a political conundrum and more of a personal hurdle to confront.

“Hurdle.” I’m probably not supposed to describe marriage in that way. But I’d challenge any married person to dispute me on that. I won’t go so far as the 19th-century Russian writer Anton Chekov in his play The Cherry Orchard whose character dourly notes “If you’re afraid of loneliness, do not marry.” Loneliness is no respecter of marital status, as far as I’ve been able to tell.

Nevertheless, getting married is one thing. Being married is another.

I was young and fey when I was married the first time. And we might be married still had there been prescription drugs readily available for depression—together with a sense that marriage wasn’t the same thing as subscribing to The New Yorker: something to be renewed or cancelled based entirely on reader satisfaction or reader neglect. Simply put: there wasn’t much of a support system at that time and in our demographic, in large part because the cool people didn’t marry. (Oh, they did, eventually. But in a very cool way. To wit, I have presided at some of those cool weddings.)

These years later it’s cool to marry. Everyone wants to do it. Now, thankfully, in New York, everyone can.

Except—except marriage is never easy. It isn’t what you think—marriage.

Which doesn’t mean it can’t be more than that. And I’m off my soapbox now. Because I’m still an often-lost pioneer. But I know that marriage makes a difference.

It doesn’t save the country, as far as I know. And it doesn’t fill the church pews (don’t get me started—or do, on some other long-winded day).

But it does do something for two lone people who find each other for whatever reasons: passionate fellow travelers, companionate friends, parents of dearly-loved children, shared or not. And sometimes all of that shifts: the passion turns, inexplicably and unfairly, elsewhere or inward. The children grow up. The mistakes mount. Sometimes we see each other through our worst behaviors. Sometimes—quite wisely—we abandon those who have hurt us.

But marriage remains this strange opportunity to explore how the heart can live in the body and how the body can engage the world. There are no promises anyone can fulfill. But no one should be denied the chance to try.