The Washington State legislature is likely to pass a gay marriage bill by early next week. It’s generated quite a few letters to the editor in our local paper, each of which has been apoplectic about this moral outrage that flies in the face of what God, through the bible, has ordained marriage to be.
I don’t imagine there would be much to be gained by pointing out that civil marriage has nothing to do with either God or the bible, but is an institution established by the state and defined by law. Every society has something that is recognized as marriage, and every society defines it by law, whether written or oral.
Christian marriage is another matter. The history of marriage, both civil and religious, in the Mediterranean world of the centuries around Christ, is both complex and fascinating. It is in that environment where many of our ideas about what marriage is have their origin, and it is worthy of some study. Within that context, the church, writ large and over time, developed a doctrine of marriage as having been established by God, adorned by Christ, and involving a relationship between husband and wife in which God plays an active role. Denominations flesh out the doctrine each in their own way. In some it’s hard to tell the difference between the officiating minister and a justice of the peace – including the words “…by the authority invested in me by the State of…” Those are words one would never hear in an Episcopalian service where the couple are the ministers of the sacrament, and marriage is a sacrament in our tradition. A tarnished one to be sure, but a sacrament just the same.
Other religions also recognize marriage as something special to be celebrated before God or the gods. I don’t know much about them, but imagine that they are as devoted to what they think marriage is as Christians are to their ideal. It’s an ideal, by the way, that has been “more honour’d in the breach than the observance,” and, sadly, some Churches have used the bible to accommodate horrific abuses and betrayals in marriage.
In any case, Christian Churches are free to recognize, or not, whatever form of marriage is consistent with their several understandings of God’s intentions as discerned in scripture. They are not free to impose that understanding on society as a whole, nor on those outside their particular denomination. On the other hand, they are free to do what they can to influence public opinion and legislators that their particular view of marriage is the one that should be reflected in civil law. As it turns out, that’s, more or less, been the case for the last two hundred years or so with civil marriage defined in terms roughly consistent with generic Protestantism to the extent that it could be synchronized with the practical aspects of contract law.
As for me, I strongly endorse the legitimization of gay marriage in the State of Washington, look forward to the same in all states, and to the day when the church understands the depth and breadth of God’s will as revealed in scripture to include it within the sacramental blessing of marriage. I do understand the thinking of those who are certain that God never intended such a thing. I understand it, but do not agree with it.
4 thoughts on “Gay Marriage in the State of Washington”
A popular course was given by the Classics Department of the Univ. of Texas in Austin for many years called Roman Civilization, one part of which was the subject of Roman Marriage. One learned that there were three legal modes or customs of marriage between Roman citizens (marriage of a Roman citizen and any non-citizen was not legal or recognized; foreigners were expected to marry one another by their own customs, and no marrige between a slave-of either gender-and any free person, whether citizen or not, was valid.)The 3 citizen marriages were called \”confarreatio\”, a religious ceremony at the home with a priestess of Juno and sometimes a priest presiding, very difficult to get a divorce afterward! A second type was \”mancipium\” where the families of the bride and groom came together and the groom took the hand (manus+cipium, taking)of the bride from her father and she became his property. The father had \”emancipated\” his daughter, given up his property right to her, but the husband had also received her dowry, which he had to give back if he ever divorced her. This made marriage very much a financial arrangement, reflected in modern alimony. A third form of marriage or \”matrimonium\” was called \”usus\” or \”usage\”, and this became the most popular form in the later Roman Republic, and the easiest to get out of by divorce. No property exchanged, the wife had become an \”emancipated woman\” from her father and NOT her husband's property! All a divorce took was for the husband to say, with witnesses, \”I divorce thee\” 3 times to the wife. Once catch: Any children born of any of these marriage types became, upon divorce, the property of their father! But any dowry agreed on in this type still had to paid back upon divorce. The many poor or foreign inhabitants of Rome either married by their national customs or by just \”usus\”-living to gether, and this was the case with all the many Christians living in the empire! Dr B
Henry Chadwick,the Anglican priest and Cambridge professor of history tells an amusing anecdote about early Christian marriage in his book, The Early Church pp.87-88: the Church Father, St. Hippolytus was angry at the newly elected bishop of Rome (already sometimes called \”Pope\”), who was an ex-slave,a freedman, who was also an ex-convict who had done time in the prison mines in Sardinia for embezzlement of funds from the deposits in a church bank of which he had been manager! St. Hippolytus refused to have communion with or acknowledge this Callistus (or Calixtus) as his bishop because Callistus held that it was proper to forgive the sins of those who had fallen in sin after their baptism, and also recognized the marriage of a Christian woman in his diocese with a man of \”inferior social status\” (probably an ex-slave,like Callistua himself!), a marriage not recognized in Roman Civil Law! Both men were Greek speaking, as were all the Christians still in the Roman Church at the time (217-222 AD). Rome did not start to use Latin in the liturgy until the next century! Dr.B
When the famous orator and politician Cicero decided, in his middle age, to divorce his long time wife, Terentia, and marry a much younger woman,he had to repay her dowry. Since Roman women had become very independent and \”emancipated\”, this often, in practice, meant paying the money to the wife, and Cicero had to borrow a large sum of money to do that. (Cicero was as poor a money manager as he was good as a public speaker!). The young woman he now married was actually his ward, and her money he now took as her dowry. Not long after, he discovered that he was not happy or adequate to being a bridegroom at his age, and divorced his new wife and had to repay her dowry money! This double scandal caused many jokes among the Roman public. Once it was said that all this scandal would have meant the end of Cicero's political career in a conservative American setting once, but in 2012 AD Republican politics, maybe not!! Dr B
I am looking forward to gay marriage being legalized in every state! And my evangelical friends drive me crazy over this subject…..