This piece was published by UPI’s Religion and Spirituality Forum on August 28, 2006; it also headlined the religion section of UPI’s main website.
It is a matter of some importance that around 3:30 in the afternoon of Saturday, August 19, 2006 nothing happened to degrade the institution of marriage.
On that afternoon, Christine Letcher and Julia McDonald exchanged vows at a wedding on their farm outside of Leeds, Maine. The ceremony was an eclectic affair. The brides wore white and processed to the beat of a Native American drum. During the service my wife sang music by Handel and Hildegard von Bingen. The congregation joined together in singing a Unitarian hymn; we also heard a poem by Rumi, a love song from ancient Egypt, and, from the Hebrew Scriptures, the words of Ruth’s devotion to Naomi. I delivered a properly Presbyterian homily. It was a joyful occasion.
Same sex marriage is a hot topic, and it is safe to say that a good number of people—particularly people of faith—would have strong objections to the vows and the covenant made on that farm in Maine a little over a week ago. Julia and Christine’s union is not recognized by the state; and my denomination, like most religious bodies, does not give its blessing to such unions.
Many suggest that same-sex unions confuse the meaning of marriage. After all, the idea that marriage is an exclusively heterosexual activity is as old as dirt. It is an arrangement that seems to reflect the intelligent design behind human anatomy, and it is true that heterosexual mating is at least momentarily necessary for the propagation of the human family.
I count myself among those who long to see marriage celebrated, upheld, strengthened and defended, and that is why I was so pleased to see Christine and Julia enter into the honorable estate of marriage. Their marriage did nothing to threaten anyone else’s marriage, traditional or otherwise. No husband and wife will dissolve their marital bonds because two women pledged troth to one another. No two single people, caught up in the joyful discoveries of love and considering the ties that bind two people in life-long commitment will demur from the work of coupling because two women have acted upon a similar desire. Young children still will play house together; at the senior prom, boys and girls in the willowy prime of adolescence still will dance cheek to cheek.
The Song of Solomon reminds us that “many waters cannot quench love,” and Christine and Julia’s commitment certainly did nothing to silence the eternal song of the birds and the bees.
If anything, for my wife and me, the marriage of our friends was an inspiration for our marriage. After all, when we got married, the only obstacle to our complete happiness was the temporary poverty common to graduate students. When we got married our community embraced us, our families celebrated the union, our church blessed us, and the state recognized our connubial ties.
Christine and Julia are loved by their families, and they have a community of friends that supports them, but their union is not formally blessed by the churches in which they were raised, it is not recognized by the state, and they cannot assume that strangers will welcome them as a couple or recognize the covenant of their marriage. At times they may need to hide their marriage to be safe.
But they got married anyway. They had the courage to recognize that their love for each other is more important than any opposition they may encounter. Julia and Christine’s commitment motivates my wife and me to keep a similar bravery in our own marriage as together we face the complexities and difficulties of life. This is what it truly means to defend marriage: finding ways to help all married people face the challenges of life with grace. This is good work, for indeed marriage is a good and beautiful institution, worthy of protection and honor.
To read more about this wedding, please visit “Wedding in Maine, Part 2,” which contains a transcript of the radio spot I did with more reflections on this beautiful wedding.