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Responding to the Prop 8 Dilemma: One Couple’s Answer

by rev. Timothy Murphy

Timothy Murphy   How should progressive pastors respond to the passage of Proposition 8 and the ongoing exclusion of same-sex marriages around the United States?

     Finding an answer they can live with has proven quite the struggle.

     Some have chosen to continue to perform weddings.  When the state will recognize the union (i.e., that of a straight couple), these pastors sign the marriage document, thereby acting as a civil servant in the situation.  When the state will not recognize the union (i.e., a lesbian couple), they perform a service that has religious meaning only.

     Other pastors find they cannot in good conscience perform any wedding service while discrimination against same-sex couples wishing to marry continues.  Until all committed couples, regardless of orientation, can be married, no one will be wed on their watch.

     My fiancée Candace and I are in a different situation.  We are neither seeking to perform a wedding nor denied the right to wed.  We both, however, feel a strong commitment to LGBT rights, among them equal marriage, but, at the same time, wish to receive the rights and responsibilities of any married couple and our religious community’s blessing of our covenantal promises.

     So we have decided on an alternative option.   We will first have a civil marriage performed by an employee of California, thus entering a contract in the presence of the state, then have a religious service, entering a covenant in the presence of our families, friends, and church communities.

     We feel this is the right choice for several reasons.  For the presiding minister it removes both the pressure to participate as an unjust representative of California and that to say no to all couples.  Our LGBT friends will see straight allies renouncing part of their privilege and standing in solidarity with them by taking the additional step of having a separate civil ceremony.   And, for those who believe marriage ought to be reserved to one man and one woman, our choice becomes a reminder that marriage can be a civil act, a sacred act or both. (One of the reasons people oppose marriage equality is they believe marriage is primarily a sacred union.)

     Separating the two acts clarifies what is happening.  At the county clerk’s office, we will affirm that we wish to be recognized as married in the eyes of the state and will sign documents and fill out paperwork.  All the rights and responsibilities bestowed through state recognition will be ours.  At the same time, the integrity of the worship service will be maintained.  It’s a service where God, the faith community and we are involved.  Here, faith language, rather than legal language, will dominate.  We will affirm that we are only able to love and care for one another because God first loved and cared for us.  Marriage is a calling, a ministry for and with one another.  The church will affirm what God has done and is doing between the two of us and celebrate that blessing with Candace and me.

     All in all, this seems an appropriate response to the ongoing debate on the nature and availability of marriage.  Maybe the state should only do civil marriages.  If someone wants a religious service, great, but that will be for spiritual, not legal, assurance.  By keeping both the secular and religious distinct, perhaps we may offer more light, less heat and maybe even a little love in these difficult times.

Visit Pilgrim United Church of Christ’s website: http://www.pilgrimucc.org/

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