Just today (today!) I heard someone refer to the recent commitment ceremony of two women I love as their… “to-do.” It’s been hard to know what to call a “lifelong commitment ceremony” even for those of us who believe in marriage equality with all our hearts. First of all, that’s altogether too many syllables to be romantic or convenient. Calling it a “wedding” has been what my heart has wanted to say, but because marriage hasn’t been legal in Illinois for same sex couples, it just felt like a euphemism, or wishful thinking, or even a lie.
But now, we don’t have to stumble over that word anymore. Marriage will be marriage in Illinois.
Still, I have trouble saying things like “it’s only fair!” or “it’s a justice issue” when it comes to marriage. I believe in marriage equality because of who I believe God created us to be, not because of “fairness,” exactly. That word “fair” doesn’t seem big enough for something like marriage. And the word “justice” seems like a banging first instead of a door opening wide.
Marriage is an expression of what it means to be human — and to be human is to be created in God’s image. Marriage offers important legal rights, yes, but as someone who strives to follow Jesus Christ in my life, I see marriage as something more. Not just a legal arrangement. Not just a formal agreement between two people. Marriage is a life-sustaining, sacred way of being relationship with someone else. A witness to love and faithfulness that shines out to all people all around it. And when a marriage breaks, it breaks not just a contract but the lives and hearts of those two people and the people around them, even if the marriage was abusive or a painful mismatch. Marriage is more than a legal arrangement. But it’s important that marriages be recognized by the State, because that makes marriage part of shared civic life in a way that goes beyond legality, too. It’s not just about two people, it’s about our whole society. It’s not just an institution, but it’s an institution.
Here’s how my bishop, The Rt. Rev. Jeff Lee puts it:
I believe that marriage is a sacred vocation. The union of two persons in heart, body and mind is a school of holiness, a way of ordering our lives so that we might learn to be more faithful servants of Christ. I also believe that the faithful, loving, and lifelong union of two persons–of the same sex or of opposite sexes–is capable of signifying the never failing love of God in Christ for the church and the world. Such unions can be sources and signs of grace, both for the couple and for the wider community.
Marriage is about two people, but it’s also about the whole community. That’s why there were so many rules around marriage in scripture – most of which are now outdated – polygamy, marrying your rapist, marrying your brother’s widow! These rules were about how families and whole communities held together. Now, I believe marriage equality will hold our families and communities together, too – both Christian and secular – and still hold true to who God created us to be, in his image: embodying love, joy, fidelity, and mercy in our lives and relationships.