This discussion has forced us to confront the true meaning of marriage. I heard a politician on the news a few years ago state, "Everyone knows marriage is about having children. It has nothing to do with love!" Really? I hope he has informed his wife of this. Marriage in fact is not about having children nor is it really about love as an emotion. It is about covenant, mutual respect and commitment. It is not an institution that depends on emotional state or on procreative abilities. (If it were, we would have required fertility testing prior to marriage long ago.) And to be honest, can anyone really say that his or her marriage is personally fulfilling and loving every moment of every day? Are you always happy to be married? Of course not. Marriage is about coming together as two people and committing hearts and lives through both good times and bad. It is not about feeling love but about deciding to love. I am committed to be with my husband through whatever life brings us, not just when it feels good to do so. As a person of faith, I promise to love him, even in those moments when I don't feel loving or when either of us are not being very "lovable," and in so doing, I strive to mirror for him just a glimpse of what God's love is like. Let me be clear: being gay or lesbian is not a choice. The choice is in living an authentic life that gives witness to the love of God in and through all our relationships. Marriage is the highest of those relationships.
Perhaps the root of the problem this country has had with marriage is not the gender of the couple involved, but the self-centered narcissism that pervades our culture that says that unless it is about me, I am not investing in it. And when it stops making me feel good, I can discard it like it never really mattered at all.
Does this decision mean that churches will be forced to marry same-sex couples? NO. It simply means that any couple can be civilly married at a courthouse and that churches reserve the right to refuse to marry any couple in keeping with their religious tradition, much as the Roman Catholic Church has done with divorced couples for decades. In short: The State makes it legal and the Church makes it sacramental. What each church (and each pastor) chooses to do about same-sex marriage is completely up to them.
Having full marriage equality is not a threat to marriage. Not having it is. This decision (hopefully) forces us to celebrate and come to terms with the reality that marriage is not about romantic love, happiness and years full of wine and roses. That is Hallmark, not reality. Don't misunderstand me: Feeling romantic love is wonderful. Children are indeed a blessing. But marriage is really about two persons committing themselves to each other in ways that mirror true unconditional love, mutual respect and support through whatever storms life brings their way. Then, and only then, is the institution of marriage strengthened "as God intended it to be."
The Rev. Dr. Robert Apgar-Taylor is pastor of Veritas UCC in Hagerstown, Md.