In our own time, many view the marriage between gay men and between lesbians with the same kind of horror that some Americans once viewed interracial marriage (and probably some still do).
I am sure that in biblical times, when marriage evolved from polygamy to monogamy, many were equally shocked.
The institution of marriage has been evolving for centuries, and the marriage of gay people to each other is simply another stage in this evolution, one having to do with equal rights and equal protection under the law. This is crucial when considering visitation rights during an illness, inheritance, health care benefits, and custody issues when children are involved.
What the states and courts are debating today is not the institution of marriage as it exists in religious institutions. I once thought it would be better to call marriages performed by the state "civil unions" and those civil unions blessed by religious institutions would be called "marriages." In fact, I still wish that all marriage legal contracts would be performed by the state, and the religious institutions would simply bless these civil unions, thus making them marriages in a religious sense by sacramental rites.
Clergy should not be instruments of the state. But that is not the current debate, which is not about church rituals but rather legal status in the eyes of the state, whether we are going to have equal legal status for gay couples and straight couples.
I believe that clergy should be able to bless as marriages some unions where no legal contract is going to be made. That would be appropriate for older people where financial considerations (Social Security benefits, pensions, etc.) come into play. That in my opinion will be the next step in the evolution of the institution of marriage. Such an idea, however, will be an argument for another day.
Obviously, if a couple planned on having children, the legal contract would be necessary for their protection. As things stand now, clergy, at least in the Episcopal Church, do not perform marriages without first having in hand a marriage license — issued by the state — which the clergyperson as an instrument of the state then signs after the wedding.
The word "marriage" is in a tug of war, obviously, and it is probably too clever by half to think that only religious institutions have a claim on its use. Thus, I have come to terms with the state performing what we are now calling in some states "legal marriages" for gay people, and calling such unions a marriage. The role of religious institutions is providing the sacramental basis for such a marriage; e.g., providing God's blessing on a couple — gay or straight — or an entire family if children are involved (either from previous marriages, adopted or born to the couple before marriage).
To sum up, it is a clear case of discrimination — arising out of prejudice — for states not to offer same-gender marriages. To argue that we call gay unions "civil unions" and straight unions "marriages" is discrimination. That is where I have evolved. But I am in good company, with President Obama and Sen. Rob Portman, to name just two.
I believe the Supreme Court will one day offer a ruling on same-gender marriages in order to to unify the concept of marriage for 50 states, but I do not think that will emerge in the near future. I hope I am wrong.
If a state offers same-gender marriages, this does not affect religious institutions. No one is forcing churches or other religious institutions to perform same-gender marriages. That will be up to each denomination, and then within each denomination it will be up to each parish.
If I were still in active ministry within a congregation, I would begin a conversation within the parish on whether it would support the clergy performing same-gender marriages. Clergy and parishioners should be in conversation about this issue if they are not already doing so. Clergy are there to serve their congregations, not the other way around, so they better learn fast how the body of Christ feels about this issue.
It will be only a matter of time before Michigan approves same-gender marriages on the state level. How does your clergyperson feel about this? How do you?
For me, Jesus stands for inclusion, affirming love between persons, and combating prejudice in all its forms. The Holy Spirit proceeds from the Father and the Son, and for those with eyes to see, the Holy Spirit seems to be working to broaden the definition of marriage.
Now about 60 percent of Americans support same-gender marriages, and perhaps — knowingly or unknowingly — such people are letting the Holy Spirit work in their lives.
— By the Rev. Henry Idema, Tribune religion columnist