So much to say....

Did you know that you do NOT have to exchange vows? Nope. Not required in any state that considers marriage a legal agreement. And the last time I checked, the officiant is only required to hear and acknowledge from you that you are both desiring to enter into that agreement of your "own free will". And that same officiant must hear you say "YES" or "I do" in some fashion in order for him/her to be able to legally sign and validate your marriage. 

So what does that mean when it comes to writing and exchanging your own vows then? Yes..it is traditional to exchange vows. That's what folks are putting on their fancy clothes and coming to see you say. (Besides the custom-made cocktails of course.) It's traditional. It's what's expected. 

But can't you just say "I do" and be done with it? Yes, of course you can. A skilled officiant and wordsmith will craft unique vows for you, put a spin on the "traditional" ones we've all heard hundreds of times or give you guidance as to how to write your own.  Here's my two cents worth:

Keep it "clean" and relatively short. If you want to have the officiant ask you questions and you simply respond "I do", then usually 3-6 questions will suffice. 

If you write a paragraph to read yourself, keep it to about 150-200 words. No more than the front and back of a 3x5 index card.

Some couples do shorter, and some do longer, but this is the normal range that I see from my couples. I recommend no longer than 300 words, as that feels really long to the guests listening to you read them.  You also might be more emotional than you think, and therefore that is a long time to read while emotional and laughing or tearing up.

When couples have so much to say and have written something much longer, I often suggest printing out the entire version as a love letter to give their spouse either earlier that day and then use an edited-down version for in front of the guests.

Posted on November 17, 2017 .

Same Sex Marriage? (Warning - a bit of scripture quoted here....)

What I have to say on this subject may be controversial, but I've held my tongue long enough. These are my feelings on this topic and if you don't care for them or how I express myself, you are more than welcome to look elsewhere for an officiant who shares your views. I am unapologetic on this matter.
    
I get daily calls from couples outside of the NY or DC area wanting me to perform a same-sex marriage. I hear the relief in their voices when I say that I do, indeed, officiate same-sex marriages and I am overjoyed to share in their special days when I am hired. With the upcoming vote on same-sex marriage in Maryland, I’ve been thinking a lot about marriage. It’s important to me to say I like it. In fact I like it more now than when Chris and I started out some 12 years ago-though it's certainly NOT been an easy ride for either of us or our boys. I have been blessed to be around people in strong and good marriages far more frequently than bad marriages.

At the same time, I have learned over the years that marriage is not for everyone for some good reasons, and sometimes for poor ones. But simply because someone is not married does not make them less—less human, less complete, less fulfilled, whatever. I wondered, quite often, if I would ever find the right one for me. Thankfully, my family didn't pressure me at all to get married...I put that on myself, unfortunately. I took the time to discover myself, traveled the world, indulged in my amazing nieces and nephews and made plenty of mistakes.  (OH, how I made mistakes....)

Because of SO many factors, I have come to a truth I hold to be universal--and I truly wish that more people would subscribe to it as well. It is that homosexuality is not evil in itself. Early on I learned all the attitudes and language needed for acceptance in a hetero-dominated culture. Most were grounded in homophobia.  But then I began to learn that not everyone was straight, even among my friends and cherished family members.

I can tell a number of stories about my interactions with gays and lesbians and those who are transgendered, most not that sad--most quite happy. They have all taught me that fear, vilification, and hatred of homosexuals is profoundly wrong. What allowed the shift to happen was meeting gays and lesbians, including  friends whom I thought I knew, who had been in the closet for years. Moreover, I felt it most deeply while sitting on a couch in NJ with my then 15(?) something nephew coming out to me. (I knew it when you were six little boy!)

So now comes the push to allow same-sex marriage, capped by the Maryland referendum in November. What should I do? My experiences with family and friends support a number of “truths” I have held for a long time. But I began to look at those truths, assumptions, revelations--because I felt my position so strongly and found myself becoming offended when my "Christian" friends would ask me how I could support same-sex marriage as I am a Christian too. I wanted to be able to support my position with some critical thinking...NOT the FOX News type of rhetoric people seem to spew when they want to add flame to the fires....
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It’s clear that male-female marriage has been the norm across cultures for as far back as we have evidence. Ancient Hebrews, Babylonians, Plato, Aristotle. That should come as no surprise. Procreation depends on the two sexes. Always has. Always will.  But LOVE and FAMILIES are entirely other matters..

The question for me is, are history and tradition destiny? Or fate? No.  (I did some research with a colleague  contributing....) We should honor them, learn from them, follow them when they help build up the body (Ephesians 4:29).  We ought not be frozen by them. Even the Bible offers ample evidence that God’s mind is not static. God remembered Noah, and did not wipe out all flesh (Genesis 8 & 9). Isaiah writing in the 8th century BCE declared that the traditional prohibition on eunuchs entering the Temple in Jerusalem (Deuteronomy 23:1) had been set aside (Isaiah 56:3-7). Jesus said the practice of marriage itself is not eternal (Matthew 22:30). Rigidity is not a biblical virtue or teaching. Yet neither is sloppy openness, an anything goes approach.

So how do I read those seven passages in the Christian Bible that condemn homosexuality? I read them in their social, and historical contexts--and according to canon law. Leviticus 18:22 and 20:13 are part of the “holiness” code in ancient Israel. The fundamental purpose of the code is to guide the Hebrews in how to focus themselves on worship and service of God. Some of the surrounding cultures practice religious prostitution, male and female. So behavior that could be confused with the worship of other gods is out of bounds. Plus a society that lives close to the edge of extinction wants to assure its survival. So, sexual behavior that does not allow children is out of bounds (compare Genesis 38:9-10).

In the New Testament, the apostle Paul makes the most extensive statement in Romans 1:18-25. The context of these verses are a challenge to the church in Rome not to imagine they are automatically better (Romans 2:1) than people who honor not God, but their own pleasure and fulfillment. He cites homosexual behavior as an example. He sees homosexual behavior as inherently “unnatural,” which suggests he cannot imagine a homosexual relationship grounded in anything other than self-gratification. (I’m sure he knew of Greeks and Romans who claimed to love their same-sex partners; he just didn’t believe it possible.) We know it is. And we know that our understanding of what is natural changes, though it takes many of us a while to see it (i.e.Pope John Paul II's apology in 2000 for the church’s censure of Galileo 400 years earlier; or the fact that in my elementary school left-handed children were taught/forced to write with their right hands).
In brief, our social and historical contexts are not the same. If they were, this nation would still condone the abhorrent practice of slavery, which, without question, has far more support in the Bible than a prohibition on same-sex relationships.

Now, how do I read those passages that say marriage is between a man and a woman (Genesis 2:24, referenced in Matthew 19:3-12, Mark 10:2-12)? The overriding concern in Genesis is that the man is alone and that condition is not good (Gen. 2:18). To find a partner equal to and adequate for him, God first creates the animals. They don’t fit the bill. So God creates a woman from the man’s flesh. Verse 24 then comes as an added comment on the new reality of human relationship, in effect setting out a particular form of relationship, marriage, that embodies the aim of God to create  human companionship. Clearly marriage is not the only form of human relationship, even between men and women.  So why such a comment? It was to reinforce the need for children.

I do not doubt that ancient families were about more than children. They were about commitment, love, friendship. Yet while children in that day were a primary purpose of marriage, now they are not. I believe the over-riding concern of God was to create relationships of meaning, and children are a delightful, but not necessary, part of those relationships.

Biblical values of justice, mercy, covenant love, and truth are the heart of biblical faith. Where our interpretations deny or distort those for some, it’s time to re-evaluate our interpretations.  For me, same-sex marriage in a context of life-long commitment is consistent with biblical values of self-giving love (agape), mercy, justice, truth-telling.

Finally, in our own context, we have to contend with a factor that began in the Enlightenment: the elevation of the individual.  The decision-making about marriage began to turn the focus away from extended families to the parties involved.  After the 17th-18th centuries AD, the practice of arranged marriages began to fade. Romantic notions of love began to replace the families coming together to decide whether a particular match was fitting.  It became less about getting a "good deal" for your daughter and her dowry than about their love for one another.

I find it quaint in our day for a man even to ask the parents of his intended bride for her hand in marriage. Charming, yes. The norm, no. (But I still find it sweet and respectful. My niece's husband asked my brother for permission to ask her to marry him and, boy, did my brother make him sweat!) 

That shift to individuals became institutionalized in the U.S. as states passed laws taking the authority for declaring marriages legitimate away from the church. No longer was it sufficient to have a wedding in front of a minister or priest and a couple of witnesses. Now you had to get a license, a legal document, from the secular courts for the marriage to be considered legal. You could even by-pass the church altogether by going to a Justice of the Peace or some equivalent officer of the court. (i.e. ME--your officiant/celebrant!)

In effect our own tradition in the U.S. has been to place the authority for marriage in the hands of the individuals involved, and to make that decision by local governmental authority.

Marriage itself has come to be seen as a consumer choice. (Don’t get me started on a review of the spectacles I endure sometimes under the guise of wedding ceremonies. Nor will I waste time bemoaning the sham marriages that make the editors of tabloids squeal with glee. Who was it who filed for divorce within 72 hours? I have no clue. And I don’t want one.)

Should we return to the practice of families choosing marriage partners, even though it has better biblical backing?  Nope.  Individual choice is quite desirable in marriage for several reasons.  God gave us the capacity to choose. (Free will!)  God values individuals, not above  families or society, but as necessary to them.  So, given the reality that we allow individuals to choose spouses, and that the state approves them, there is no logical public interest to deny two adults who want to marry the right to do so. In fact, since married couples receive tangible benefits from the state, it is unjust on the face of the matter to deny any committed couple the right of access to those benefits.

So far all of my arguments have been cast negatively: reasons not to follow long tradition. Let me offer a couple of hopeful reasons.

Marriage has been falling out of favor in our culture for 50 years. Now we have a sizable number of people who would love to get married. Maybe by living out committed relationships over a lifetime they can help restore the honor of the institution.
We also have far more children who need good parenting than we have willing parents. I know plenty of same-sex couples with children. They make wonderful parents, better than any number of heterosexual couples. Maybe same-sex couples with children would provide good models for mixed sex couples, and demonstrate the desirability of having two parents around the house for children?

And maybe the God of love and justice will breathe a sigh of relief and say, “Finally, they got it.”

Same-sex marriage in Maryland? I’ll be voting yes.

Posted on December 23, 2014 .