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As a high-school student, I wanted to become a forest ranger but decided against it because of the mosquitoes. My parents suggested I become an attorney. Instead, I became a Quaker minister. There are jobs that pay more and have less stress, but I’ve never regretted my decision.
When I first became a pastor, I didn’t like conducting weddings. Eventually, I began enjoying them, even though most weddings are on Saturdays, which is the one day each week I try to take off. I’d like weddings a lot more if they were held on Wednesdays at 10 a.m. I would also like them more if they weren’t so expensive. The average wedding costs $30,000, so the couple is broke from the get-go. I’m thinking of putting a money cap of $1,000 on the weddings I conduct. That’s what my wife and I spent on our wedding and honeymoon 29 years ago, and we’ve been happy as clams.
I haven’t conducted a same-gender marriage, though I support marriage equality. Opponents of it worry it will undermine the institution of marriage, but gay people can’t harm it any more than heterosexuals have. With so many straight people treating marriage so casually, it’s encouraging to see gay people take it seriously. In the Gettysburg Address, Abraham Lincoln spoke about a new birth of freedom that would accompany the liberation of slaves. When this country gives homosexuals the freedom to marry the person they love, perhaps we’ll have a rebirth of marriage. It will be ironic, not to mention poetic, if gay people end up redeeming the very institution some straight people have accused them of destroying.
My parents have five children. Four of us are happily married. My brother David is happy, but not married, because the State of Indiana believes he and his partner shouldn’t be free to marry the person they love. I asked my brother what he had done to anger the state, but he assured me he has been nothing but kind to Indiana. He has paid his taxes on time, kept its laws, helped its citizens, served on its juries, volunteered in its churches, and donated to its charities. When my brother was in our mother’s womb 51 years ago, something happened that caused him to be attracted to men. I’m not sure what it was—I’m not scientifically minded—but it apparently upset the State of Indiana, which said the only way he could get married was to marry someone he didn’t love. This seemed wrong to me, a violation of the sanctity of marriage, so I wrote the state, asking what my brother had done to deserve such treatment. It hasn’t written back. I would let the matter go, but years ago I promised my father I would stick up for my little brother, so I’m staying at it.
Some legislators have said that if my brother gets married, it will jeopardize other marriages. Several of them have been married several times, so they might know more about marriage than I do, my experience being limited to one. But I don’t think my wife would leave me if my brother is allowed to marry. She seems fond of him and his partner, would likely attend the wedding, and would probably even bake the cake for it. She doesn’t like Saturday weddings any more than I do, so that’s a high compliment.
The State of Indiana offers no proof that my brother’s marriage would harm anyone, though it seems confident the union would, confident enough to want to add its prohibition to our state’s constitution. I’m fond of our constitution and not inclined to tinker with it, except to expand our liberties and increase our happiness. Adding a line forbidding my brother to marry strikes me as coldhearted and ignorant, like telling a black man he only counts as three-fifths of a human being.
I’ve been a Christian all of my life. It puzzles me that most of the people who don’t want my brother to marry are also Christian. It makes me wonder if I’m a bad Christian. I get letters from some of them suggesting that to be the case. I do confess I’ve never been enamored with the rules of organized religion, though there is one rule I do admire: the Golden one. Do unto others as you would have them do unto you. Since I wouldn’t want others to prohibit my marriage, I won’t prohibit theirs.
People opposed to marriage equality often predict it will open the door to all manner of curious relationships. “If gay people are allowed to marry one another, then the next thing you know, someone will want to marry their dog.” I’d like a nickel for every time some “expert” on marriage said that. For the past three decades, I have listened to the anguished confessions of troubled souls. Not once has a person ever confessed romantic feelings for a dog. Our family had a dog for 13 years. We loved her a great deal and wept when she died. As fond as I was of that dog, I never once wished to marry her. She had bad breath, hogged the blankets, had horrible table manners, and refused to take her turn doing dishes. Marry her? Don’t be ridiculous.
Being traditional myself in some regards, I agree with those conservatives who worry about the decline of marriage. I’ve met people who give more thought to their breakfast cereal than their marriage, and that troubles me. But all those folks have been heterosexuals, just like me.
Since my tribe hasn’t done much to elevate the institution, I’m more than willing to give homosexuals a crack at it, starting with my brother, who has been through thick and thin with his partner, Ken, for 25 years. I say let them marry, and I say God bless them for valuing an institution the rest of us have cheapened. Let them stand before their friends and family at their Methodist church and vow to support and love one another until parted by death. Let them cut their cake, toast one another, and share a first dance. Let them combine their earnings, pay their bills, and worry about money like other married couples. Should one of them get sick, let the other sit at his bedside and wipe his fevered brow. When they die, let them lie together for eternity, side by side, under grass and granite. Not once has tragedy befallen a nation that expanded the rights of its citizens. Let us call Indiana’s prohibition against gay marriage what it is: a spiteful, stingy effort to deny one group a blessing another group enjoys. We in the church have a name for that: sin. Illustration by Ryan Snook
This column appeared in the September 2013 issue.
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