DOMA

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My friend Robert asked the question, “how does the demise of DOMA affect my relationship with God?”
And then he answered it with, “it doesn’t.”

And I think more people need to consider why that is true. Because there is nothing in the overturning of the Defense of Marriage Act that could possibly interfere with anyone’s freedom to practice religion. Unless your religion requires you to judge and condemn and limit how others live their lives.

If you are opposed to same gender marriage, you can still hold that belief. If you are in favor of it, you are free to hold that belief as well.

What frustrates me the most, I think, is the way the media has been reporting the “Christian response” to the demise of DOMA. The mainstream (can I call them ‘lame stream’ or should I leave that to Fox?) media has brought in religious leaders like Tony Perkins, people who are upset about the idea of marriage equality.
And I don’t mind that perspective being expressed. What annoys me is that it appears to be the ONLY perspective being sought by the media.
There is not one Christian perspective, no matter how much the media wants to simplify it.
There are as many Christian perspectives as there are Christians. Asking for THE Christian perspective would be like CNN asking me for the “American perspective” on an issue.

And since the media isn’t asking for more than the right wing, evangelical perspective on this issue, it seems that those of us who see things differently need to speak up and speak out.

Because Tony Perkins does not speak for me. And I suspect he might not speak for you either.

And this matters because there are people being harmed by his rhetoric. And when it is allowed to stand as THE Christian perspective, people think the Gospel of Jesus Christ is about fear, judgment, and discrimination.

So the Session of the church I serve decided to post the above message on our church sign. We want people to know you can be a Christian who reads the Bible and prays AND you can support marriage equality at the same time.

Feel free to share the picture of our sign. Better yet, find your own way to speak out and let people know there are many Christians who are celebrating the demise of DOMA.

There are many of us who are celebrating with our GLBTQ friends and family who can now receive federal benefits and have some recognition of their relationship status.

And if you are opposed to same gender marriage on religious grounds, I will continue to support your right to practice your religion that way. I just won’t support any attempts to force the rest of us to practice our religion your way.

I no longer sign civil marriage licenses. I preside at Christian marriages all the time, but can find no justification to serve as an agent of the state. The couples I marry have a Justice of the Peace sign their civil license.
I don’t really know how Christian Marriage and Civil Marriage got conflated, but they are not the same thing. The government can dispense civil benefits. The church can mediate God’s blessing and include a community of faith in the foundation of a marriage.
I like the separation. It reminds us of one of the beautiful traditions and tenets of our country–the freedom to practice religion separate from the dictates of the government.
So people on all sides of the religious spectrum should celebrate the demise of DOMA.

This week, my husband I will celebrate our 21st wedding anniversary. I am thankful we have been able to live out our relationship without any limits being placed on it by either the church or the state. I pray all who seek the same privileges will have that option soon. I will do more than pray, however. I will continue to seek equal rights and marriage equality.

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11 thoughts on “DOMA

  1. I know a lot about the history of the relationship of civil and church marriages (the answer lies in, surprise, the sixteenth century! Let me know if you would like some scholarly bibliography) and why they became tied up with each other — but I agree that there’s no necessary relationship between them. I would be fine if the state got out of endorsing marriages altogether.

      • The “problem” in early modern Europe was that valid marriages in terms of canon law were sometimes hard to prove. People were supposed to be married by a clergyman. However, canon law courts considered a promise to marry binding, so if there was a dispute, the promise was considered sufficient to force the marriage (if you and your partner agreed to marry “de verba praesenti,” although you were not married, you had made an unbreakable contract to marry). No blessing by a clergyman was required to make this promise. Witnesses were not even necessary, although in some places it was customary to drink to marriage in front of witnesses in order to make the pact. Assuming that the partners to a union agreed they were married (and they were not burdened with impediments such as a previous such promise or betrothal or marriage, or were not related within the forbidden degrees, which were admittedly somewhat broader before the Reformation), they were considered married by the church. Typically the public wedding with benefit of clergy then took place for legal purposes, which meant securing things like inheritance, legitimacy of children, etc.. But the exchange of the promise meant in most of Europe that a couple would begin engaging in intercourse. A “church wedding” in the way we celebrate it was thus not an assumed thing for most people before the end of the 16th c. These private marriages on the basis of a promise to marry were called “clandestine” marriages. (They are possibly the origin of the belief in some quarters of the US into the mid-twentieth century that the breaking of a betrothal was equivalent to a divorce — because originally the agreement to marry constituted a marriage and permitted intercourse, etc.) These clandestine marriages were convenient in a lot of ways — particularly, for instance, if a couple proved infertile. A public marriage could be annulled on the basis of infertility but if a marriage had only been clandestine in the first place, it was easy for partners to separate, whereas an officially recognized marriage could only be dissolved via a divorce decree, which would have been impossible for almost anyone except a monarch or high noble to obtain.

        You can see why this could have been a problem for the wider populations, however, particular as wealth in Europe grew. There’s a huge surge in breach of promise cases after the beginning of the fifteenth century, where a partner who thought s/he was contracted to marry validly and bindingly discovers that the partner disagrees, and sues either to force a public (church) wedding or else the payment of damages. Parents who are making inheritance or alliance plans suddenly discover that their child is already married, and so on. It’s inconvenient and chaotic, people see the possibility that someone will promise marriage in order to have sex as dangerous to public morality, and in precarious times where there’s a de facto ongoing food shortage, ideally you don’t want to risk having children who are not attached to two marital partners because of the matter of financial responsibility. There’s a generally observable rising interest in most western European populations in enforcing “social disciplining” after the mid-fifteenth century.

        This desire is reflected in the church, so there’s a push in the church to end clandestine marriage before the Reformation (visible in sermons, for example), but it’s the form of the church-state alliance made possible by the Reformation that historians now call “confessionalization” that’s responsible. The confessions (e.g., the Catholic Church via the Council of Trent in 1566) begin to ban clandestine marriages. Calvin does this as well in Geneva (or tries — there are still plenty of breach of promise cases in C16 there by people who didn’t get the memo) and this becomes an influential pattern for the Reformed churches everywhere. But churchmen can’t enforce these bans and change the customs of centuries without some kind of threat potential. So they turn to the state, which has the necessary coercive potential, which gradually begins to set rules about marriage recording. The church sets requirements for marriage (including the famous rule in England about reading the banns for 3 weeks), and eventually, the state requires that the church record the marriage correctly if the couple wishes to be considered married for purposes of inheritance or any other coercive purpose (getting a husband to support his children, e.g.). The church gets a more “moral” public (it assumes), one more compliant with divine law, and the state gets an agency that has a branch in every small town enforcing its laws as it starts to build up its bureaucracy. It takes a long time for this change to become fully established — in England, calls to end clandestine marriage emerge slightly before the Reformation; the church tightens its requirements across C16 and 17, but it’s not until the 18th c. that the state requires the church endorsement. (This final step in England probably has something to do with the wave of breach of promise and child abandonment cases that appear during the Industrious Revolution.)

        The forms of this development are slightly different everywhere in Europe so it’s complicated to describe, but in general we can say that push for the secular state to be involved in determining the validity of a marriage begins during / in response to the Reformation. Bibliography to follow.

        Apologies for the lecture.

  2. My favorite book on this topic is “Adultery and Divorce in Calvin’s Geneva,” by Robert M. Kingdon. Very short, readable and interesting, based on the author’s study of the consistory records in Geneva. There’s also a great co-authored work by him with John Witte, Jr., “Sex, Marriage, and Family in Calvin’s Geneva.” I’ll think a little bit about England. My familiarity there primarily relates to the canon law issues around royal marriages, but I think there’s some good social/political history of that as well, the names are just slipping my mind at the moment.

  3. Aha. The English example I was thinking of is Outhwaite, History of Clandestine Marriage in England.

    On the N.American colonies you’re on your own. My education was limited 🙂

  4. Thank you so much for this blessed strengthening message to study and to share with our people in India, please pray for me. Evangelist Babu.

  5. Marci – Thanks for the wonderful post! I think your friend Robert’s answer to his own question is the crux of the matter. Whether you are for or against same-sex marriage each of us individually and collectively think of how it affects their own relationship. And instead of focusing on what may/may not affect them, the answer is basically you need to fix your own stuff first before questioning the motives and desires of other people. Yesterday I wrote a blogpost on the subject from an African-American view. Very interesting responses!

    • Those were interesting responses on your post. I always flinch a little when I hear things compared to the Civil Rights Struggle–no matter what they are comparing it to.

  6. And here is a comment someone just made at our church’s website:
    “Southminster Community –

    I was confirmed as a teenager at Southminster many years ago, after attending the church with my family for a decade.

    I moved away from Boise shortly after my confirmation and never really made it back into a church again. I came back to Boise 10 years ago, but never thought of returning to Southminster. Today I drove by the church and saw your sign celebrating the end of DOMA. I was so moved by this message and yes, surprised.

    I admire your fortitude and appreciate the congregation you have become. This level of inclusivity might encourage me to return – someday :)?”

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