In most of the years covered by the biblical writings, marriage was between one man and many women. Women often died young in childbirth — so, to ensure having many offspring, a man usually had many wives. Not as many as Solomon, but more than one.
Moreover, until fairly recently marriage in western culture was not for love but rather for political and economic reasons. "Romantic love" as a reason for marriage is fairly new in the overall sweep of history.
So, the evolution of marriage is nothing new. Now we are at the point in the life of both our society and within our churches when we are debating another step in this evolution: the marriage of people of the same gender. In my opinion, this is positive for both church and society.
In my experience, gay people who have been married in states where this is legal do a better job of staying together than straight people. Divorce is less common. Moreover, gay people don't abort their babies; and yes, many gay couples do have biological children. And they make wonderful parents for those they adopt.
If we are worried about the sanctity of marriage, heterosexual people — with their divorces, abuse and adultery — have already nearly wrecked that concept. I believe gay couples will do much to repair this damage.
Some denominations, such as the Episcopal Church, have developed or are creating marriage rites for gay people. And in those states where gay marriage is not legal, many churches have liturgical rites to bless unions that have no legal contract.
One confusion about marriage that the church has struggled with for years is the fact that state empowers clergy legally to preside over marriages. Many of us clergy resent being instruments of the state. Actually, marriage in a religious institution is both a legal contract and a sacrament with spiritual meanings far beyond the legal aspect.
In my opinion, all couples, both gay and straight, should get the legal contract from the state and the role of the Church would be simply to bless such unions.
A few clergy no longer will do the legal work for the state, so the couple has to go to the state for their license. But this idea that all legal marriages are done by the state, and sacramental marriages are done by religious institutions — an idea common in Europe — has not taken root here, unfortunately.
If marriage for gay people becomes legal here in Michigan, no one will force clergy to preside over such unions. As with marriages now, the clergy will make that decision based on a variety of reasons (e.g., whether they are members of the congregation, have successfully gone through pre-marital counseling, etc.).
With similar considerations, I think clergy should preside over gay marriages in states where such unions are legal, but this will be a choice each clergyperson will have to make. Moreover, such a decision needs to be in the context of whether his or her parish supports such marriages.
A minister serves his flock, not the other way around. So there needs to be a discussion — and there is no better time than the present! — between clergy and his or her parishioners on the issue of whether marriages of gay people are going to be part of the life of the parish.
Time is on the side of gay marriage because the vast majority of young people support such marriages — 81 percent I read in one poll. If the church wants to thrive in future years, she better listen to the sounds of change — because, as Bob Dylan sang in the '60s, "the times they are a-changing."
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune community columnist