Thursday, March 25, 2010

Part 2 - The Marriage Message: “Marriage could be . . .”

Rev. Haffner is on the road this week. This guest blog is by Kate Ott, who directs the Religious Institute's Seminary Project and provides sexuality education training to teens, parents, and clergy.

Marriage is and should be defined by many characteristics. Unfortunately, in legal and cultural debates about marriage between two men or two women, we have lost a significant opportunity as people of faith to think creatively about what makes for a just, loving marriage. Yesterday, my colleague, Tim Palmer wrote about marriage equality as a right of any two people to “join” marriage. We can also consider marriage equality as "re-defining" marriage as equal partnership!

I truly believe marriage equality is terrifying to some people because it by definition gets rid of the necessity for gender/sex based categories in marriage. Many of us still define marriage based on things that women should do and things that men should do (gender roles). And there are some who still believe gender roles are grounded in our biology. In society and our faith communities, we continue to give gender roles unequal value. Much of Christian theology about marriage is founded on these ideas.

Marriage equality doesn't mean we will erase differences based on gender (or anything else) in our relationships. As I say to my children on a regular basis, “Equality doesn’t mean sameness.” Equality means our differences are valued “equally.” Equality in our marriages would allow us to celebrate the diversity of blessings two people bring to each other -- blessings that are free of falsely imposed gender stereotypes that harm both men and women. Some people are good at fixing leaky faucets, others are great cooks, some like doing the bills, others are good at childrearing -- finding the balance is evidence of true partnership.

Ted Olson, who is a life-long conservative Republican and now defending marriage equality in the courts, wrote in Newsweek, “Marriage is one of the basic building blocks of our neighborhoods and our nation. At its best, it is a stable bond between two individuals who work to create a loving household and a social and economic partnership. We encourage couples to marry because the commitments they make to one another provide benefits not only to themselves but also to their families and communities. Marriage requires thinking beyond one's own needs. It transforms two individuals into a union based on shared aspirations, and in doing so establishes a formal investment in the well-being of society.”

I fully concur. I hope we have not missed the moment as a nation and as communities of faith to talk about what marriage could be. Given the woeful success of heterosexual marriages, our faith communities might consider the importance of requiring more in-depth pre-marital counseling, providing on-going marriage enrichment opportunities, and promoting equality in our relationships.

Marriage equality won’t happen for any two people without hard work, honesty, dedication, and communication. Successful, happy, and fulfilled marriages have more to do with those qualities than genitalia or gender roles ever will!

What do you think makes a marriage “a marriage”?

1 comment:

Andy Armitage said...

There are bound to be some gender "roles" grounded in our biology. That's not, I believe, that the roles are in our biology, but the gender certainly is, and roles spring from that. One obvious one is motherhood. But so much comes from ancient societies who wrote scriptures that eventually turned into the Bible, and many religions take their cue from those. Obviously, they can't hold for ever, because society changes, and its needs and obligations change with it. Marriage should now be open to same- and opposite-sex couples alike, although I personally would not wish to get married and have the state snooping into more and more of my affairs, as if it didn't do so enough already. There are many gay men, like me, who prefer not to be married, and, while I'm not in a relationship, I know those who are who remain happy to stay that way, continue their relationship on an unofficial basis, and they get on fine.

I'm afraid this throwback to what ancient societies thought prudent for their survival is still affecting us. We stop believing in Santa Claus, but never in the gods (or the God) that must have seemed to answer so many question back then. Such beliefs are no longer needed as explanatory frameworks for us to discover why things work. There still are mysteries, yes, but that doesn't mean (a) that they're created by gods or (b) that we'll never solve them. Potentially, we'll solve anything, as long as we survive overpopulation, pollution and the depletion of nonrenewable resources. I say "potentially", because it ain't a given, but, in theory, in principle, science will find some explanation, even if it has to revise some of the detail along the way (science is, after all, always a work in progress).

So let's end this obsession among religionists with what people do with their naughty bits and concentrate on bringing about a society in which people love and get along. All religion has done in this regard is create barriers and obstacles. It's stubborn and seeks to control.

While I have no problem with believe per se, or spirituality, I do have a problem with organised religion. Once something becomes organised, it tends towards ever more control until it becomes fascistic.