Monday, February 16, 2009

Marriage: Sacrament or Fund Raiser?

At my quilt group yesterday, we heard about a Student Government fund raiser at one of our local high schools. Students paid two dollars to get "married." Students married other students, both in terms of "officiating" the ceremony and in terms of participating. Students often married several other students at once--group marriage!

Our reactions ranged from mild amusement to mild outrage to serious discomfort. What ever happened to selling carnations, like my high school used to do for Valentine's Day?

I found myself thinking about marriage a lot this past week-end. Our church did a renewing of vows during Sunday's service, in addition to a baptism--an interesting juxtaposition.

I think Martin Luther went too far in deciding that marriage wouldn't be a sacrament in the Lutheran church. Nothing has ever helped me understand the nature of God's love better than my marriage (except, perhaps, the love of my parents for me). Nothing else, except, perhaps Communion, is so much an "outward and visible sign of an inward and invisible Grace" (as the Anglican Book of Common Prayer describes a sacrament).

I am always amazed and grateful when my husband forgives me for the boneheaded things I do. I'm even more amazed that he's often forgiving me for making the same mistakes again and again.

These are not major mistakes. I don't go out and cheat on him, for example. But I'm often irritated and grumpy, and I lash out, and I realize I've been a jerk, so I apologize and ask for forgiveness. And he kisses me and says, "Don't worry about it." And again and again, I feel blessed with a kind of marital grace.

And of course, I do the same for him. And in this daily practice of love and forgiveness, I come to understand God's love for me--and I am able to carry a similar love out into the world.

It's hard to be a Christian today, and to avoid the question of whether or not homosexuals should be able to marry. I'll just go ahead and ruin any prospect I have for going to seminary and say here, on the record, that I approve of gay marriage. My favorite conservative columnist, David Brooks, said it better than I can here in a New York Times column; he says, "We shouldn't just allow gay marriage. We should insist on gay marriage. We should regard it as scandalous that two people could claim to love each other and not want to sanctify their love with marriage and fidelity."

In fact, I'd go even further. Some members of my quilt group were troubled by the idea of students marrying not one other student, but two or three. That didn't bother me. I'd open marriage up to all sorts of variations. If three people want to commit, then let them commit. Where I differ from my society is that I would then say, if you want to commit, you'd better be sure--once you're in a marriage, we expect you to leave only if the situation turns truly catastrophic. If you're not ready for that kind of commitment, then go for the domestic partnership option that I'd have available to everyone as well.

Don't commit to marriage if you don't believe in the sacramental aspect of it. If you're just marrying for the health insurance, we should give people other options.

That quote of Brooks speaks to what I found so troubling about the idea of students paying two dollars to marry each other for fundraising purposes: it trivializes an institution that I find sacramental. We live in a society that trivializes commitment in all kinds of ways, and I find it dispiriting to discover one more way.

Of course, if students had a similar conversation about marriage as my quilt group did, perhaps it would be a useful exercise. I suspect that they didn't, but I'm hopeful that some thoughtful students began the process of determining what they believe about a battered institution.

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