A Journey of faith within the church, the culture and the world
Saturday, September 8, 2012
Disagreeing with Rachel Held Evans, but loving her anyway
One of the blogs I enjoy reading belongs to Rachel Held Evans. She’s a terrific writer and I like her take on things in the world of faith in general and Christianity in particular.
She made a brief remark recently, however, about which I disagree. She said, “I believe that marriage is a civil right in this country.” I am not, in this limited space, attempting to address the larger issue of same-sex marriage, except to the extent that I think its proponents base their arguments on a faulty assumption.
Marriage is not a civil right.
Let me explain: When I got married a zillion years ago, there were certain requirements I had to meet in order to marry my fiancé. First, we had to affirm that we were not already married to someone else. Even back in 19blah blah blah, polygamy was frowned upon in US society. Second, we had to get blood tests to prove that we didn’t carry communicable diseases and end up spawning mutants and then infecting all our neighbors. Third—and this is the one that still outrages me—I had to get written permission from my parents in order to get married. Back in the olden days, you see, a woman could get married without parental consent at age 18. Men had to be 21. My fiancé was 19 and I was 20, so I had to get a note from Mom and Dad. Nevermind that I was in the US Navy at the time and could, theoretically, defend the nation for the sake of democracy; I still had to get a note. If my folks said no, then I’d have to wait a year.
Once we satisfied those requirements, we could get married. But it was not because it was a civil right; it was the recognition by the state of California (and also our church) that something existed between my fiancé and me that could be recognized and declared as a union called “marriage.”
We didn’t have a right to get married. We did, however, have a right to request that our life together be affirmed as such. And we could, potentially, be refused.
Two ten-year-olds can walk into the County Recorder’s office, pick up the form that requests a marriage license, fill it out, and submit it. It will, of course, be turned down. In our society, even children can ask to get married, but we won’t let them do it. It’s their right to ask, but not their right to actually tie the knot.
While the requirements are not quite as rigid today, the point, I believe, still stands. I’m wondering what would happen if the debate about marriage moved away from the assumption of a “right” to the exploration of marriage that is recognized and declared by the communities in which we live. This is not just an issued related to same-sex couples; it has to do with the whole idea of marriage in a culture that can deconstruct and reconstruct lives via medical technology in ways that were unthinkable a hundred years ago. Marriage and sex assumed, at one time, procreation. No longer is that assumed, even with heterosexuals (read this interesting blog on the topic). On top of that, we heterosexuals have pretty much redefined marriage as something that only works half the time anyway, so maybe some fresh and new reflection is in order.