Sunday, November 30, 2003
Spouse and spouse?
I support legal recognition of committed same-sex couples, and I am proud of my own denomination's practice of performing commitment ceremonies and services of union for same-sex partners.
I am having a hard time, however, wrapping my head around at least one aspect of the gay marriage debate: I don't understand why some people are downplaying any meaningful distinction between male-female marriage and same-sex marriage. Case in point: In today's Boston Globe, Michael Paulson describes efforts by Protestant denominations in Massachusetts to prepare for the likely flurry of gay weddings next summer. My colleage, the Rev. Keith Kron of the UUA's Office of Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender Concerns, is quoted in the story.
Kron said that most Unitarian Universalist ministers use the words "spouse and spouse" rather than "husband and wife," and that few other changes to the traditional wedding rites are necessary.
Really? How did I miss this? I'm sorry to say that the weddings I've performed included the dread words "husband" and "wife." (I also signed the wedding licenses, by the way, which makes me less holy than some UU ministers but at least as honorable as a justice of the peace.) My wife and I actually do talk about each other as "husband" and "wife." Are we anachronisms? Or are we simply being candid about the cultural baggage that we have taken on, for better and for worse, as a man and a woman who signed up for the "institution of marriage"?
I see a significant analogy between male-female marriage and same-sex marriage, but I don't see an equivalency between them. Gay marriages strike me as a good thing — and as a new thing. Straight couples may now enjoy a "marriage of equals" more than ever before, but marriage is hardly gender-neutral even for the most progressive couples. Our species is sexually dimorphous — the symbolism of "male" and "female" as sexually generative is rather primordially a part of the idea of marriage, don't you think? This symbolism isn't accidental or incidental, even though having children isn't a necessary part of marriage. My hunch is that a lot of the difference in public support for civil unions versus gay marriage is due to most people's sense that, while a lot of things are the same for same-sex and male-female couples, the reality of gender difference within a marriage is a fundamental aspect of what we have meant by marriage. Liberal that I am, I'm stumbling over this symbol when I consider redefining marriage.
I would like to see the development of appropriate symbolism for the distinctive virtues of same-gender couples. I would like to see liturgical language that celebrates those virtues. I would like to see religious communities and civic communities identify the qualities that make same-gender as well as male-female marriages vital to civic health. But I don't think we're going to get very far by taking gender out of marriage entirely, or by discounting the differences between one form of partnership and another.
I'd like to hear your thoughts, naturally. Is it "spouse and spouse" for everyone? Or can we celebrate and encourage committed gay and straight couples in distinctive ways without also setting up a "separate but equal" institution for same-sex couples?
Copyright © 2003 by Philocrites | Posted 30 November 2003 at 3:32 PM