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Where Is the Love?

Set me as a seal upon your heart,

as a seal upon your arm;

for love is as strong as death….

Many waters cannot quench love,

neither can floods drown it.

If one offered for love

all the wealth of his house.

it would be utterly scorned.

—Song of Solomon 8:6-7

In many ways they were very similar weddings: each took place in a Christian church, each was performed by an ordained Christian minister (one Lutheran, one United Church of Christ). Each had readings from the Bible—in fact the same reading was used at both services.

There was a large gathering of family and friends at each reception. At each reception, family members happily welcomed the new member of the family.

One of the weddings was my own, performed by a United Church of Christ pastor.

The other wedding was that pastor’s and I performed it.

Each of us married a man. Each wedding was a joyous occasion.

Marriage makes a difference.

Of course, many, many marriages end. According to a 2008 Barna Group study, a full 33% of people who have been married go through at least one divorce. And if you’ve been there, you know it’s no picnic.

In 2004 the states with the highest divorce rate were Nevada, Arkansas, Wyoming, Idaho and West Virginia. These were red states in the 2004 election. The states with the lowest divorce rates were Illinois, Massachusetts, Iowa, Minnesota and New Jersey. These were blue states in the 2004 election. And the only state in the union to annul marriages in 2008 is California.

This is how California is indicating that it is pro-traditional marriage—by annulling 18,000 other couples’ marriages?

If you get the chance, go to Protect and watch the videos that encourage support for Proposition 8. In one, two stick-figure (yes, stick-figure) couples are next-door neighbors. One couple is in a ‘traditional marriage’ and the other couple’s partnership is simply ‘a lifestyle choice.’ Nevertheless, they all get along just fine. They watch each others dogs when they go out of town. They have barbecues together. But both partners in the traditional marriage decide they’re going to vote YES to Proposition 8 because same sex marriage could have ‘some harmful consequences’ to society.

(But I daresay that divorce has more harmful consequences than same-sex marriage. With a divorce rate for conservative evangelicals on par with agnostics and atheists and higher than some religious groups, working to lower divorce rates might be a more urgent priority than outlawing same-sex marriage.)

Of course, it doesn’t outline what those harmful consequences to society might be. But it does explain that under California law same-sex couples have the same legal rights as heterosexual married couples. So in effect, the point of the video asks what difference does it make if same-sex couples can’t get married? They already have all the legal protection they need.

I can’t speak for you, but if you’re married, I’d wager you didn’t do it for legal protection. You did it for love. How does one, by majority vote, annul love?

See, that’s where everything gets murky and a little ridiculous. During a wedding ceremony, clergy are empowered to act as agents of the state. That is to say, if I marry a couple they aren’t legally married until I sign and mail their license. Clergy didn’t ask to be agents of the state—and in Europe, they’re not. It’s only in the United States that a minister’s signature makes the marriage legal.

But in the case of California same-sex couples, if there is no marriage license to sign and equal legal protection obtains for all, how is it that the state has the power to annul what the couple and the minister declares is a marriage. It strikes me that Proposition 8 had little to do with preventing the (un-cited) ‘harmful consequences’ of same sex marriage and everything to do with mean-spiritedness and exclusivity. “You can’t have what I can have because you’re different from me.”

But since Proposition 8 was largely supported by Christian organizations, this presents a grave theological problem. How does the behavior of these groups square up with the biblical teachings so treasured?

Here are the words that were read at each of the two weddings I mentioned:

As God’s holy ones, chosen and blameless, clothe yourselves

with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness and patience. Bear with

one another and if anyone has a complaint against each other, forgive

each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.

Above all, clothe yourselves with love which binds everything together

in perfect harmony.

—Colossians 3:12-14

What part did compassion play in the decisions of those who supported Proposition 8? What part did humility play—to say nothing of kindness and love? Some of the very people who treasure the scriptures disregarded the spirit of it, in favor of the following the letter of it—those handful of passages, taken out of context, that speak against same-sex relations.

Why does marriage make a difference? Because the relationship expands when you can stand up in front of a bunch of people and pledge your love and faithfulness to each other. Because the relationship expands when you have the support of your community of family and friends.

Because commitment, made visible and taken seriously, matters. Where are the ‘harmful consequences’ of that?

—Jo Page

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