Whatever the Supreme Court rules this week, gay marriage appears to be headed toward legal affirmation. A dozen states now embrace the principle of marital equality, with polls showing over half of all Americans in favor of equal rites.
There is almost an element of inevitability here, because gay partnerships that are long-term, responsible and mutually committed are a fact of life. Trying to prohibit or annul these relationships by constitutional amendment is like trying to overturn Newton’s laws through legislative edict. Same-sex marriage exists--like the law of gravity. The only question is whether these relationships will receive the full range of protections and benefits that heterosexual marriages receive. More and more Americans are inclined to answer yes.
As a minister, I’ve been performing these unions for years. Way back in 1997, the church I served in Burlington, Vermont, went on record by filing an amicus brief on behalf of two same-sex couples who had petitioned the state Supreme Court for the right to wed. That opened the door to a court ruling creating Civil Unions—equivalent to marriage in all but name--in the Green Mountain State back in 2000. What seemed radical then has now become tame.
I recall when our legislature was debating the issue. Vermont had become a national battleground, and roadsides were littered with placards pro and con. The statehouse was packed for the hearings. Most of those testifying against gay marriage cited scripture or church teaching. In contrast, those testifying in favor talked about their families—sons and daughters denied the right to visit their dying lovers in the hospital, or unable to receive an inheritance, or enjoy the tax advantages that come with married status. One side used the vocabulary of rulebooks and dogmatic authority. The other spoke in the language of equity and compassion. There was little communication between the two, which seemed a pity.
For I have always supported marriage equality on traditionalist grounds, because I so vigorously support the institution of matrimony, which is decline. A recent report by the Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, for example, found that “by age 25, 44 percent of women have had a baby, while only 38 percent have married.” Anyone concerned about the next generation should be alarmed, for while single parent households can be as nurturing and healthy as any (and I was raised by a single mom, after my father died), we know that kids born outside of marriage are at higher risk for falling into poverty, dropping out of school, and falling behind their peers by almost every measure. In these circumstances, shouldn’t we be acting to strengthen stable families and support healthy marriages?
Against the atomizing forces of modern life--the “every man for himself” ethic of the marketplace, the politics of division, the cult of privatizing everything from Social Security to public utilities and natural resources--everything possible must be done to sustain our social fabric: to care for our families, our children, our neighborhoods, our communities, our environment. That’s why, regardless of how the Supreme Court rules, I’ll continue to bless and consecrate the bonds of human interdependence, be they gay or straight.