Thursday, May 30, 2013

Marriage, Civil Contracts, and Equality

      I am tired of the discussion about marriage “equality” so I have a proposal to make. I almost called this post, “A Modest Proposal,” but I am serious about this, so I didn’t.
I think that the church needs to get out of the marriage contract business and get back into the marriage covenant business.  Why do I say that we are in the marriage contract business?  It has occurred to me over the years that all that grand ceremony that we go through really doesn’t mean anything legally.  All that matters is that I sign the marriage license.  That’s what makes the marriage legal. And, really, anyone can sign that license these days.  All you need is an online ordination and you are good to go.  And, of course, a judge, JP, etc. can sign and perform the ceremony. So the whole religious connection is really not even necessary.
     Therefore, I think we should formally separate the religious ceremony from the legal contract.  Tony Campolo has suggested something of this sort, but I don’t think he has gone quite far enough.  (  I propose that we go full tilt toward equality.  Let’s allow any combination of adults to make a Civil Union as a contract that gives them what we now think of as marriage privileges.  However, these conditions should apply: 

      Everyone will be required to have a written contract (what we call now a “pre-nuptial” agreement) which will specify
o   The financial arrangements between the parties
o   Rights of survivorship for property
o   Who makes decisions in terms of medical and end of life issues should they arise
o   Rules about sexual intercourse that answer the following questions
      •   Whether or not sexual activity is desired, required, expected, etc. 
      •  Does refusal to engage in sexual activity constitute grounds for breaking the contract? 
      •   Are sexual partners outside of the contracted parties allowed (what we used to call adultery)? 
      •  If outside partners are acceptable, will regular testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases be required?
o   All issues surrounding children should be spelled out
      • Which of the parties involved will be biologically related to the children?
      • Will surrogates be used if all the parties are men, sperm bank if all the parties are women?
      • Do all the parties involved want to take responsibility for all the children?
      • If one of the parties changes his/her mind about children (to have or not to have) will that constitute grounds for ending the relationship and breaking the contract?
      • When “divorces” occur who will take the children, who will be responsible for them financially, etc.
·     Everyone -- man and woman, man and man, woman and woman, one man and several women, one woman and several men, whatever combination – will have to go before a government official (JP, judge, etc.) for a legal union to be made.

·    After the legal union has been made, the parties could go to a religious representative and have a “wedding” if their religious tradition accepts their particular kind of union.  However, this would not be necessary. Really any kind of ceremony or celebration could be held.

Does it sound like I am proposing that we legalize same-sex unions, polygamy, polyamory, etc.? Yep.  Why not? If we are going to legalize same-sex unions, there really is no good reason for not legalizing any type of union.  But we need to recognize that the assumptions that come with marriage can no longer be made in unions that are not between one man and one woman.  Those assumptions have been in play a long time and we take them for granted (sort of what one does with assumptions). But really, we should not take them for granted, especially when it comes to the fate of children.  Since we are not going to use religious arguments for keeping unions between one man and one woman, the arguments about monogamy, faithfulness, etc. are not really valid either, at least legally. There are no legal reasons that I can see why we shouldn’t have unions of all types, including what might be called “starter” or “temporary” unions that are for a limited amount of time.

Now, you might think I am a raving liberal, and if you know me you might think I have gone off the deep end and totally changed my whole point of view.  Think again. My theological understanding of marriage has not changed. (For what I think about “biblical marriage” see upcoming post.) I think a “marriage” is between one man and one woman. I still believe that sexual intercourse is a wonderful gift from God that enables a man and woman to express the most intimate love. Therefore I believe that sexual intercourse is only appropriate between a man and woman who are married.  I have no intention of performing a marriage ceremony for anyone but one man and one woman.  I will continue to require premarital counseling for those whose ceremonies I perform.
You see, I want the church to reclaim marriage as a covenant, maybe even as sacramental. Under the system I propose, we would not perform a wedding to celebrate a covenant marriage unless the legalities were already observed.  But I want to separate the legal contract from the religious covenant.  I am tired of being an agent of the state. And I am tired of the fight over “marriage equality.”  I don’t want to call the legal contract “marriage,” and I don’t want the covenant to be all that is required legally. The Roman Catholic Church has been distinguishing between a church marriage and a civil one for years; I am suggesting we take that a step further and do that for all religious traditions.  So those “Sister Wives” can be legal for all I care.
Do I think all of this is a good idea for society?  Well, no.  But I think this is the way we are headed, whether I like it or not. We might as well get there faster (and see the consequences faster).  And if we are headed this direction, then I don’t want to be forced to go against my conscience in performing marriage ceremonies.  I also understand, whether we admit it or not, that unions between anyone other than a man and a woman have different rules, especially when it comes to children.  Only one of the partners at most can be biologically related to any children they have, and the relationship between 2 men and a child and between 2 women and a child is different (if it isn’t obvious, this is because a woman can carry a child in her womb).  We have legal requirements for adoption, because the connection between the parents and child is not based on biology (though we strive to make it mimic biology). So it only stands to reason that we need to develop legal requirements for how children are treated in all unions.

I can hear the screams – from both sides of the debate. If you comment, please be respectful.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Mother's Day Reflections

I have a confession.  I am a Mother’s Day Grinch.  I just don’t like the day. There are times when I have actively hated the day.  As a child I guess I liked it well enough.  I always made a card for my Mom; usually funny, since I didn’t do sappy very well. But then every year was the pressure to outdo the previous year.   And that card became tremendously difficult to make the year that my mother lost one of her children – my youngest sister – to chicken pox. I think that happened about a month before Mother’s Day.

In my teens and as I moved into young adulthood, I really loved children and wanted children of my own quite fervently.  However, I had no boyfriend, I didn’t date and I thought myself unlikely to ever get married and have a family.  So I grieved inwardly on Mother’s Day for the children I (thought) I would never have.

Lo and behold, I did marry (the bestest guy ever, btw) and we wanted children.  But, it appeared that I was infertile and treatments for several years did not help. So the grief on Mother’s Day became stronger. I would sit through Mother’s Day at church with tears silently running down my cheeks.
As it happened, I did finally become pregnant and had a child – actually I wound up with three delightful children. Now you might say that the moral to this story is to trust God and not borrow trouble and certainly I have learned that over the years.  But I have never forgotten the grief that I felt on Mother’s Day.

In more recent time, there have been several years where my relationship with my own mother was strained and that, too, contributed to a Mother’s Day experience that was less than happy.

So, yes, I am a Mother’s Day Grinch.

As a pastor, of course, I had a chance to do things my way (sort of), so while I realized that failing to celebrate Mother’s Day would probably anger my congregations, I did make some stipulations.  I would not ask those questions:
            Who is the newest mother here? (Causing grief for those who had miscarriages in the past year.
            Who has the most children? (What about those who would love children but can’t have them?)
            Who has been a mother for the longest? (As those who have lost their mothers in the past year cry to themselves)
I would insist that if we gave a gift to “Mothers” then we would give that gift to all women in the congregation and I would explain why in the spiel that I developed that always goes something like this:
Today is Mother’s Day. This is a great day for some, but for others it is a day of pain and mourning.  Some of you are grieving for mothers that have died; some of you are grieving for children that have died or for those you were not able to have. Some of you have children who have broken your heart and others of you have mothers who have cast you out or abused you. So today, we will honor those who gave us birth, at least those who deserve such honor.  But we will also honor those who are the “mothers” of the commandment in Exodus. When God commands that we honor our mothers, the Hebrew word refers to not only our biological mothers but all those women who nurtured us, taught us, challenged us lovingly, and mentored us.  Every woman here today gets a flower, both to honor the mothering that you do and to remind you that all of you have the opportunity to be a mother.  You can choose motherhood in the biblical tradition.  You can choose to be important to someone, whether a child or an adult, who needs you.  If you are grieving today, I pray that God will soothe your heart. But I also urge you to give your grief to God as an offering and let God lead you into the motherhood of the kingdom.
On Mother’s Day, I think about all the mothers in my life: Kelso, an older lady who was my first babysitter. Annie May and Wilma, black women who cleaned my room, washed my clothes, stayed with me when my Mother was busy or gone. I remember my teachers – Mrs. Parsons who encouraged my love of science; Tezzie Cox who pushed me to stand in front of my peers and preside at Tuesday afternoon assemblies in high school; Madame Shaner who showed me what it meant to live with dignity and die with grace. I remember those older women (I called them all “Aunt” whether they were related or not) Aunt Helen and Aunt Susan in particular who cared for me in various ways and listened to me at times when others weren’t interested in my dreams. Some of these women had given birth to their own children, but all of them had children that they nurtured, that they mothered.

I don’t know that I will ever enjoy Mother’s Day.  My own children honor me with their lives and their love throughout the year, and I would rather that be the case than have one day of hoopla.  I am happy for those who can celebrate, but I don’t think I will ever forget the pain, or stop seeing the pain that others feel on this day.