Monday, 25 May 2015

This England: Love and Marriage

“Why, sir, you know this is your wedding-day” – from Taming of the Shrew

It was wonderful to attend two family weddings recently: (Laura’s here and Gemma’s here.) There can’t be many events in the human calendar that are more optimistic than a wedding – two people setting out on what they hope will be a lifetime commitment. Two people investing in a future together, choosing to be thought of as a couple rather than two individuals.
An unorthodox wedding in Shakespeare's Taming of the Shrew

Memorable weddings

Both recent family weddings were affirming and inspiring events. I haven’t been to so many weddings that they have become routine. All the ones I have been to as an adult have been distinctive and memorable. One for a work colleague at Victoria Hall in Saltaire included the couple rising through the stage on a Wurlitzer organ. One at a hotel on the Wirral had quirky balloon table decorations. Leeds Town Hall was the magnificent setting for a civil partnership ceremony for two men who sported stylish brooches for buttonholes. Personalised touches seem to be the way to get your wedding remembered.

Historically, church weddings are modern

Marriage has been a non-religious institution far longer than it has been a religious institution. Only in the 12th Century – 1184 – did priests begin to preside over weddings. Until the 16th Century the betrothal part of the ceremony was allowed only in the church porch. It makes sense, therefore, that weddings in hotels, in forest glades, on beaches, in castles and in town halls are not only legitimate but they are more traditional than church weddings which are – in historical terms – new-fangled.

Irish Common Sense

The recent vote by the Irish people to change the constitution to allow gay marriage is a triumph of progress and civilisation, in my opinion. It is truly wonderful (I’m full of wonder about it) that one of the most famously Catholic countries in the world has been the first to legalise gay marriage by popular vote. Objections to gay weddings are borne out of prejudice, not historical development. The argument that weddings are the property of the church and are purely for the procreation of children makes no historical sense.
Rainbow over Dublin as Ireland's people votes to allow gay marriage

A threat to family life?

Why on earth wouldn’t a country in the 21st Century allow two humans to commit for the foreseeable future to loving and supporting each other? If a creator God exists, hasn’t he created everyone in His/Her loving image? Doesn't He/She promote that Love is Everything? Two men or two women marrying will not threaten the march of time, destroy the ozone layer or awaken the sleeping horsemen of the apocalypse.

Christian scripture

Jesus had nothing to say about gay relationships but was very clear about not condemning others.
  • he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her….And Jesus said unto her, Neither do I condemn thee…. I am the light of the world: he that followeth me shall not walk in darkness, but shall have the light of life.  (John 8)
The Old Testament rules forbidding sex between the same gender (Leviticus 18) also ban: 
sex during menstruation
mixing meat and dairy (eg cheeseburger, lasagne)
eating pork
touching a dead pig
being uncircumcised
working on the Sabbath
being a drunk
planting more than one kind of seed in a field
wearing mixed fabrics
clipping the edges of your beard.

And that list is just the obvious selection. President Bartlett in The West Wing expressed it well (in the clip linked here; the relevant bit starts around the 2:15 mark.) If all those bullet points above are now allowed (and have been for a very long time), why pick on one item in the forbidden list that simply fits a prejudice?

"These couples shall eternally be knit" – from A Midsummer Night’s Dream

Historically (and rationally, logically and philosophically), therefore, committing to another person in public in front of witnesses seems to have nothing to do with religion or sexuality and everything to do with love, friendship and loyalty. All good things. Non-church, non-religious weddings have a longer history than church or religious weddings. Any two people can join their hands in matrimony (it used to be called hand-fasting) and therefore gay marriage is a perfectly proper historical act.
Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream - a dreamy ending!

Love Thy Neighbour

And, just in case anyone worries about what Jesus’s own rules are:
  • ….thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind, and with all thy strength: this is the first commandment.  And the second is like, namely this, Thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself. There is none other commandment greater than these.  (Mark 12)
Anything legislating against love, therefore, seems to be distinctly un-Christian.
If God is the Creator, He/She Created Everybody