I fully support the inclusion of same-gender couples in cultural and legal understandings of marriage. So all the jubilation following decisions in Ireland and the USA of recent months, I am all for it. Love is love, and a society's cultural and legal affirmation and protection of covenants between life partners should apply to same- and different- gender couples alike. Good.
And yet, in the aftermath of the USA decision this week, one of the statements being shared from judges' comments from leaves me uneasy.
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family.
We're still elevating marriage up to the top of a relationship hierarchy (I've written about this before).
Love is love.
So much of our legislation (including but beyond marriage / de facto partnerships) is about protecting covenants, relationships, between humans, for the inherent dignity (apparently this word was used tens of times during the SCOTUS hearings) of all humans. Because every human deserves the dignity of fulness of life. Every human deserves to know they are loved, worthy, to have the opportunity to thrive. Every human is dignified because they are human.
So in my dis-ease, am I being disparaging of marriage? No. I think marriage has an important place in the woven fabric of human relationships, in community. These profound (they are profound, but are they the most profound?) unions of two people do embody love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice and family. And I think we elevate marriage in our estimation because this embodiment is integral to the multi-faceted nature of love and human relationships. We protect this one at the centre of our vast webs of relationships because these most intimate relationships nurture all our other relationships; all our relationships nurture our most intimate relationship.
There is a practicality, then, to our protection of marriage: protect the central relationship for the sake of all the relationships of a human being.
Is there also a symbolic function of marriage that is part of our elevated estimation of marriage? I am an ordained minister. Part of the function of the clergy is symbolic: set aside within the Christian community in order to remind the whole community of the stories and practices of Christian spirituality which all in that community have chosen to follow.
Does marriage, I wonder, perform such a function for our human being? Love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, family (community): the highest ideals of human being, embodied in the most intimate relationship of life partners, and also the ideals we seek for all our relationships.
Weddings therefore gather people from the couple's broad web of relationships for the affirmation and support of their life partnership, for the health of this one, and all their relationships. Weddings also remind us of these ideals of human being - faithfulness and mutual wellbeing - and, most importantly, the love we must have for one another if we all are to live as whole, healed, human beings.
But a person's most intimate relationship is not necessarily marriage (it might be important to note that a most intimate relationship does not, by definition, have to be a sexual relationship). As a married couple (or partnership) is not the only way humans choose to participate in broader relationships, community, life. In other relationships, too, we see ideals of love and the sacredness of life that infuse our understanding of and participation in all our relationships. Think of the celebration of birth and the relationship of parent and child.
So, while I have just explained (for myself, mostly, writing in order to discover what I think) why marriage holds this elevated position in our estimation of human relationships, I remain uneasy at the elevating of marriage to the position of most profound. I want us to remember that human relationships are not a hierarchy. That the home might be a single parent with a child or children; the circle of intimacy of partners may or may not also include children; that an adult might choose singleness and enjoy a depth of relationship with a small intimate circle of friends or family. And that in each of these kinds of relationships, and so many more, is the potential for profound love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and the mutual wellbeing of each human being.
Yes, let us celebrate marriage, a particular relationship among all human relationships.
Yes, let us celebrate a more inclusive understanding and practice of marriage in our communities: more love will strengthen us.
Let us also celebrate each human relationship for its potential to grow more love, more thriving humans, too.
(and yes, this is very human-centric: another whole blog post could be written about the importance of love in our relationship with the earth and all that lives ...)
Another single person has reflected in this language from the recent US Supreme Court decision: here is the link.