In February of 2004, Connecticut became the first of the United States to remove legal boundaries which had prevented gay and lesbian citizens from exercising their right to marry the person of their choosing. That Spring, the editors of Liturgy decided to devote an issue to the question of the nature of marriage (contract or sacrament) and its expandability to include persons formerly excluded. Since that time, the States of Iowa, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and New York, the District of Columbia, and the sovereign nations of the Coquille and Suquamish tribes have granted equal marital rights to their gay and lesbian citizens, while the topic of marriage equality has continued to embroil those who make policy for both the churches and the states.
One of the more interesting essays in that issue of Liturgy came from the pen of Janice Erickson-Pearson, a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. She began with a humorous story of performing a wedding at sunset on New Year’s Eve on top of the Sears Tower in Chicago, which transported my mind back to some of the more pastorally questionable weddings I have performed over the years. From there, however, her writing took a turn toward the serious, contemplating the churches’ struggles with same-sex marriage in terms of the maxim lex orandi, lex credendi.
As one who has performed many weddings for persons of the same sex, Rev. Erickson-Pearson found it telling that the liturgies of the church needed barely any change at all in order to be appropriate to the occasion; certainly much less change than they required back when we decided to write them as if heterosexual husbands and wives were equal before God.
We have removed the Pauline requirements of submission by the wife and the language requiring that she vow to “obey” from the rites of the church, to say nothing of the pagan notion reflected in the question: “who gives this woman to be married. . .” We can also refrain from using the language of “man and woman” in those rites where a same-sex couple seek the blessings of God, the sanction of the community and to enter together into the holy covenant of marriage. Marriage is marriage. Within its sacred bounds, the truth of our lives, who we are, whose we are, and what we are gifted to do, is illumined. God’s unfathomable forgiveness, God’s widest welcome, and God’s most tenacious passion is alive and made real for me in the love given me by my husband. I pray it is the same for him. God is a vital part of this union, for it is God’s primal passion, love spending itself for us, love pouring out life for us, this love that nourishes and sustains our love for one another and for God. It is, for all who enter into its sacred territory, wishing to venture further into the very heart of God and give themselves up to the transformation that surely comes, a holy union.
Do you see any serious liturgical barrier to the church’s blessing of the marriages of all of its partnered members?
Janice Erickson-Pearson (2005): "Sacred Territory", Liturgy, 20:3, 10.
Janice Erickson-Pearson has been a pastor in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America (ELCA) for over twenty years, serving congregations in metropolitan Chicago and Littleton, Colorado; as well as in the ELCA’s Division for Ministry.