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June 30, 2015

Marriage: Access Granted

“What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life — to strength each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?”
— George Eliot

With the recent Supreme Court ruling for same-sex marriage, the debate concerning the purpose of marriage has again been thrust into the public sphere. And there is a great deal of passion on all sides, from those who believe that the sanctity of marriage is under attack to those who can now enjoy the benefits of the wedded institution.

In truth, marriage has meant a great deal of things to a great deal of people throughout the world for millennia. The concept and definition of marriage have evolved over centuries as societies and cultures alike have changed and evolved. The current debate is not just an American issue. What constitutes a legitimate marriage as opposed to non-traditional unions — such as same-sex, or in some instances, inter-racial marriages, or those outside of one’s caste — is an ongoing debate worldwide.

“The idea of ‘traditional marriage’ however, is not all that traditional.”
The idea of “traditional marriage” however, is not all that traditional. Marriage today differs greatly from what marriages were 500 years ago. Biblical, or, shall we say, the Christian sanctioned so-called “traditional,” marriage came into being around 1215, when marriage was declared one of the church’s seven sacraments. And it wasn’t until the 16th century that church law mandated that wedding ceremonies be performed by a priest before witnesses.

There are Mesopotamian historical records of marriage contracts and bonding ceremonies dating back nearly 4,000 ago. Marriage during this era was not for love but rather served primarily as a means of preserving the ruling class, forging kingdom-to-kingdom alliances, and maintaining royal bloodlines. Some cultures practice polygamy in the attempt to produce many offspring, which is viewed as a blessing, a sign of having wealth, and of receiving divine favor. Today people marry for a wide variety of reasons, and many people throughout the world still marry within their race, caste, and social class.

“At the heart of this discussion should be no less than the promise of love and commitment, for there is no greater purpose for marriage than being a harbor for love.”
However, in western societies marriage is often for love and fidelity. Particularly in the U.S., it comes with many social and legal benefits. It is also about devotion and giving; it upholds the highest ideals of sacrifice and commitment, respect and dignity. It is also about sharing your life with someone you love in a deeply intimate and spiritual way. It is for personal growth and companionship.

It is not surprising, therefore, with all the changing and shifting of the definitions and purposes of marriage throughout millennia, that we would be here today having a national discussion concerning who should or should not have access. At the heart of this discussion should be no less than the promise of love and commitment, for there is no greater purpose for marriage than being a harbor for love. Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy beautifully stated its purpose, while also including love stories of same-gender-loving couples. He wrote:

“No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.”

In all cases, the institution of marriage is a sacred rite as well as a civil right, belonging to all couples who have chosen to partake in one of the greatest journeys two souls can together embark. And each deserves encouragement, wholehearted cheer, and the best of wishes.

I am a proud, passionate liberal thinker, social-justice advocate, entrepreneur, creative thinker, and songwriter whose mission in life is to try be the change that I hope someday would be in the world. I am also a husband, father, and community minister. I hold an undergraduate degree in Organizational Leadership, a Master of Business Administration (MBA) and a Master of Divinity degrees. Currently, I am serving as Managing Director of Clergy 211, an organization of inclusive and progressive clergy that provide non-judgmental rite-of-passage ceremonies for all people.

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