As a Christian pastor, I am grateful for the legalization of same-sex civil unions in the state of Colorado. It is, I believe, a step in the direction of justice, and justice is the primary message of the Hebrew prophets and of Jesus himself.
I look forward to blessing civil unions for same-sex members of my congregation and the wider community. But I also see the recent legislation as a step toward full inclusion of gay and lesbian couples in the institution of marriage.
Over the past 14 years, I have been "marrying and burying" people as a minister at the First Congregational Church of Colorado Springs, the church founded by the same group of people who founded Colorado College in 1874. At the risk of sounding morose, I will admit to preferring funerals to weddings.
The reason is that people are allowed to feel a greater range of emotions at a funeral. Other clergy would agree with me that while weddings allow participants to express joy for the couple and perhaps nostalgia that "our little girl/boy is all grown up," funerals done well allow for grief, joy, anger, surprise, confusion and more.
A second reason for my preference is that, increasingly, clergy are treated as just another vendor in the wedding process: "Photographer, check. Florist, check. Caterer, check. Have we forgotten anything? Oh yeah, we should probably find an officiant." Folks often regard the ritual part of the wedding as secondary to all of the expensive trappings.
Recent experiences officiating at the weddings of same-sex couples are changing my attitude. In these cases, the couple begins planning the ritual and then crafts the rest of the celebration around it. It may surprise those who have never officiated a gay Christian wedding, but same-sex couples tend to be more traditional than most couples. "There needs to be an organ," one couple told me, "and the congregation needs to sing." Another couple wanted to make sure the language was explicitly Christian, "because that's who we are, that's how we believe, and this is where we belong."
In his recent book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage, Bishop Gene Robinson makes the case that same-sex couples just may save marriage by reminding the culture at large that the purpose of marriage is to create strong and committed relationships that, in turn, create more stable families, the building blocks of a cohesive society. I believe Robinson and I think it is only a matter of time before even conservative Christians in Colorado Springs embrace gay marriage as a healthy and holy institution.
In the meantime, I feel privileged to have been a part of weddings at which two people of the same gender ask the blessings of their family and friends, their church and their God upon their relationship. We call them "weddings" and use the word "marriage" in the ceremony because these are religious words which belong first and foremost to the church and other religious communities, and only secondly to the state.
Last fall, I was driving to my church to officiate the wedding of two young women. As I approached the intersection of Tejon and St. Vrain streets, I saw them both in their white dresses, posing for pictures, their smiles reflecting the sunny day, their parents and grandparents, friends and passersby basking in the glow of their mutual love. I cried because it was so beautiful. And I said to myself, "How could anyone think this is wrong? Thank you, God, for the love these two people have for each other."
Alas, that wedding did not enable a legal marriage in Colorado Springs, but it was a holy event as far as our Christian church is concerned. While I have never felt comfortable acting as an agent of the state in performing weddings, and while I have considered refusing to sign marriage licenses until all marriages are legal, I look forward to that day when I can perform a wedding in my church that also conveys all of the rights and privileges of marriage.
And I look forward to the increase of yet another emotive expression at the weddings of any two people: crying, because it is just so beautiful.
Rev. Broadbent is lead minister at First Congregational Church (United Church of Christ) of Colorado Springs.
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