Last week the Episcopal Church passed an approved, if provisional liturgy for The Witnessing and Blessing of a Lifelong Covenant. Predictably much uproar ensued. Is it a marriage rite? (no.) Will straight people use it? (not likely—there are already BCP liturgies for marriage, and for blessing of a civil marriage, which remain officially off-limits for LGBT people). In the comments to some posts, several couples of long standing were insulted. If we’ve been together 20+ years, seemed the theme, why on earth would I do this now? If it's not even "real"?
Coincidentally, BP and I were at a (non-church) event last week where we met an out, gay man, M., who has been with his partner 27 years. The host genially barraged M, saying “you live in New York! You can get married!” M. was modestly annoyed at this. “Why would we get married NOW?” he asked. “That would just insult the years we've had--as if they weren’t real.”
Now, I’ve gone on numerous times here about why I believe there should ultimately be one marriage rite (you can read my commentary and links here). But in this post, I want to ignore that, and address the common theme between these two responses: “Why should I do this now? If marriage is a covenant between two people, I have already done that.”
Yup, you have! And so did my wife BP and I, when we exchanged rings privately. Our hearts were sealed together at that moment.
But we also took advantage of marrying, when it became (briefly) legal in California, and we took advantage of the blessing, when our Bishop allowed that possibility. I’ve told you about both events (here and here). While neither of these events changed our hearts towards each other, they nevertheless were very important to our relationship, and they shared something in common.
Both our wedding, and subsequent blessing, put our relationship into the context of community. Each turned out to be a profound and moving gift to us. And that’s what we told M., as we explained why he might want to marry.
No man is an island unto himself, wrote John Donne, and neither is a marriage. The whole concept exists within a culture and community. When the window to marry opened in CA, we said to each other, “this is complicated (because of DOMA) and it may even be taken away (because of the pending Prop8). It’s not like a straight marriage in those regards. It's not the full thing itself. But we need to take the opportunities given. If we don’t seize the opportunity, and show how much this matters, there won’t be progress.” It seemed very rational.
We of course discovered that in every important way, it WAS and IS marriage, and we were lifted by it far more than we would have expected ahead of time. After all, we had already made that commitment. But our wedding was a chance to celebrate our relationship with friends and family, making public what had been private. They held us up in joy, and welcomed us to the broader community. That feeling of being held up was palpable. Amazing. It meant so much more than we could have imagined.
And we found, two and a half years later, that our blessing was much more than a blessing of our marriage. It didn't matter that we couldn’t use a BCP liturgy for our blessing. It was, as I told you before, as much our Cathedral community claiming us and our marriage, as it was us claiming a blessing from them. Again, a palpable feeling. To become a gift is even greater than receiving one.
It’s no coincidence, then, that the title of the SCLM resources is “I Will Bless You, and You Will Be a Blessing".
Marriage and blessing is not for us, the couple. It is for us, the community. It is a giving to us, and in return the giving of us.
Yes, I understand that there may be legal as well as philosophical reasons why many LGBT people may choose not to marry legally. Many will prefer not to engage with the current liturgy because it’s not officially marriage. And, of course, many couples have had commitment ceremonies or blessings already—they are already beyond this. Everyone has the choice to make.
But… I want you to consider that by engaging the new rite, it becomes marriage. I can’t think of any LGBT couple who would undergo a blessing service for whom it is NOT personally a marriage covenant, regardless of legal technicalities, and I’ll guarantee you the people witnessing it will consider it the same.
And so we were married. And we were, and are, blessed. And both of these were, and are, astonishing gifts not only to us, but of us.
Be a gift.