The entire nation is embroiled with the issue of gay marriage since the Supreme Judicial Court in Massachusetts said the Commonwealth could not restrict marriage only to heterosexual couples. To do so is an unconstitutional form of discrimination. It denies a whole class of people rights, privileges and benefits extended to others.
Most religious fundamentalists went crazy. Conservative politicians climbed on the bandwagon and now want to amend the Constitution to prohibit gays and lesbians from marrying. For the first time in our history, they are considering adding a clause of discrimination to our Constitution to limit certain civil rights.
I think it's too bad the government can't handle this situation like the UCC. All of us are the sons and daughters of God. Let people be who they are.
Stand strong for commitment and enduring relationships. Support families and children. Encourage, honor and respect love wherever it is found. Some people want to keep marriage Òthe way it's always been.Ó
But who among us would want marriage as it was in biblical times? Husbands could easily divorce their wives, but wives had no right to divorce their husbands. Wives could not own property. If your husband died, you would be expected to marry his brother. Would you even want marriage the way it was during the Civil War, only 140 years ago? Marriage is always changing.
It is never the institution of marriage that is sacred. What is sacred is the two individuals and the love that they bring.
The marriage of homosexuals is reality in Massachusetts. It will be legal until at least 2006 and possibly much longer, but its future depends on how threatened heterosexuals are at the prospect of people of the same sex having relationships blessed by the church and acknowledged by the state.
I want to go further. I want to get the state government out of the marriage business entirely. For centuries, the church claimed marriage as a sacrament, as the Roman Catholic Church does today. As such, the state government has no business telling the church who it can or cannot administer its sacraments.
Some churches will feel comfortable marrying gays and lesbians; some will not.
But let the state and federal governments stay out of it. It is essentially a spiritual issue. Theologically, the church does not "make" a marriage. A wedding is where the church acknowledges a spiritual union that already exists.
Let the state register couples in civil unions. Let couples go to city hall or a judge and exchange their promises and received whatever rights and benefits go with such a union.
For those who want more than a civil union, let them go to the church, synagogue or mosque and get married. Most of Europe has two such ceremonies. Couples go to city hall in the morning and to church for a wedding in the afternoon. At city hall, they sign the register. In church, they exchange vows and rings.
The Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court offered as a solution having the state leave the business of marriage entirely and only offer couples civil unions. This option should be given more serious consideration.
The Rev. Fred H. Turpin is a UCC minister, psychoanalyst, and marriage and family therapist in Ridgefield, Conn., and New York City.