Wednesday, May 9, 2012

The President has spoken; now, can I?

I just listened to President Obama's interview in which he admits he thinks same sex couples should be allowed to be married. When he was elected in 2008, I was awed and amazed that America had elected a president who is not of European descent; perhaps this is even more shocking and more important. While I do not like to talk politics much on this church blog, I do want to share some reflections as a pastor who serves a congregation in which several of our members are same-sex couples, and why I think it's important to acknowledge such commitments publicly.
I have been married for almost 21 years. The legal benefits I enjoy from being married I take for granted: I can draw money from our joint bank account without my partner being there to verify my doing so. We can hold loans for the house, the cars, the college debt, together. We can speak for one another in an emergency medical situation. When one of us dies before the other, there will be financial benefits from the federal government and from private investments. I have not had to make special arrangements or pay extra lawyer fees to make these things happen; when we both signed our wedding license in 1991, they automatically took effect. Of course there are spiritual and emotional benefits as well: I know who I am because of who I am when I am with my partner; he has shown me something of God and what it means to live a life of faith; we are better together than either of us could be apart. And, as our wedding scripture reminds us, "Two are better than one...if two lie together, they keep warm." (Eccl 4:9-12)
When I do premarital counseling with same-sex couples (the same conversations I have with heterosexual couples, of course), the motivations to marry are the same: there is a promise of emotional, spiritual, physical, and practical stability, they are called to share life together, they are better together than either can be apart. I have never had a couple tell me "We want to get married so we can ruin the fabric of American family values"; nor have I ever encountered a couple divorcing because of someone else's gay marriage.
A lot of people are choosing not to be married. The commitment itself smacks of patriarchy, they say. They don't want to be tied down. Marriage will ruin their relationship. But there is something about making that commitment, in front of God and your parents and lots of other people, that cements the commitment. Being public about the relationship allows the public to support it--when a couple has said, "This is important enough to celebrate", then friends and family know it's important to them. They aren't always supportive, of course, but they know it's important and real.
Same sex couples who have some kind of ceremony, regardless of legal status, have told me that it makes a difference in the way they think about their relationship. It's no longer private, but all those witnesses at the wedding are part of the deal, too. So if couples choose to be married, so they can enjoy the stability and support of a publicly-supported and recognized relationship, as well as the benefits of a legal partnership--doesn't that support family values? Providing a safe place for people to bring out the best in each other, to love one another well and teach children these values? Having more people who can combine income, assets, and credit for greater financial stability? Being allowed access to care for one another in practical and long-term ways?
This is a political issue; but it's also a human issue. And I believe God calls us to build one another up in love, to support one another and bring out the best in each other, in romantic relationships and among friends and family. From a pastoral perspective, I firmly believe the more support we have for ALL families, the better our American family values will be upheld: love, trust, honesty, loyalty, belonging, kindness, patience, peace, joy. These are the values in my family, and in many families I know. These values do not have to be ratified by law; they are who we are as human creatures. Can we provide enough room for all families to teach and shape their values, and to support them in doing so? Umm... yes!