More and more frequently, and with increasingly heated intensity, the accusation is made against proponents of marriage equality: “You are changing the definition of marriage and you want to force your definition on the rest of us!”
As a Lutheran, parish pastor for 30 years, starting in Spokane in 1962, I performed hundreds of weddings, and held at least two pre-marriage consultations for each wedding. In both the order of service and in the consultations, the definition of marriage was crystal clear.
Put simply, marriage was defined as lifelong love, compassion, respect and fidelity of one person for another. This simple definition of marriage was embodied in the Consent and Declaration of the marriage service.
In the Consent, the pastor asked each person if they would love, comfort, honor and keep the other in sickness and in health, and, forsaking all others, keep only to each other as long as they lived. And the person asked would consent, “I will.”
In the Declaration, the couple substantially repeated their consent by declaring to each other before witnesses that they promised to have and hold the other “from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, till death us do part.”
Never did it occur to me that the gender of the couple defined marriage.
You might quickly note that the couples were always a man and a woman. Yes, that was conspicuously so. But then, that is the point, isn’t it? Because I never had to consider the gender of the couple, I focused on the core values of marriage, and that was always defined as love, compassion, respect and fidelity.
When gay and lesbian couples began asking to be married, and a few nations, like Canada in 2005, began to legalize marriage between same-sex couples, a swift backlash occurred led by religious and social conservatives in the United States. Suddenly, the focus upon what defines marriage turned to gender rather than core values. By 1996, Congress passed the Defense of Marriage Act defining marriage as the legal union of one man and one woman.
This was a new definition to me. Yes, by custom and historical experience, marriage had always been between a man and a woman, but marriage was never defined by gender. Marriage was always defined by its core values: love, compassion, respect and fidelity, and these core values are as applicable to same-sex couples as to straight couples.
If we truly want to defend marriage, we must focus on what marriage really means, and, as a society, double down on our efforts to guide, counsel, encourage and support marital relationships, be they gay or straight.
The “Defense of Marriage” should be exposed for what it is: an anti-gay campaign to exclude gay, lesbian and transgender families from full legal recognition.
Washington residents, by approving Referendum 74, can repudiate such discrimination, and affirm the right of these families to the same legal recognition given the hundreds of traditional couples I wed in my many years as pastor.
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