I’m pretty new to marriage – I made some vows a few years ago, I trembled while speaking the words, I can remember exactly what my partner’s hands felt like and the way the light fell into their eyes.
I remember all the people, I remember the power of words read and sung throughout generations, I remember the unity of our faith expression, our families and friendships and the social and cultural symbols and recognition.
We’ve been privileged to be around some really long happy marriages in our friendships and our family so far. We’ve also been around some middle sized marriages and some short ones; some have been happy, some have been sad, some have been inspiring and provocative and others have been discouraging. Some have been healthy, some have been abusive.
I value my marriage, and our vision of commitment, fidelity, loving and valuing each other and helping each other to be the best that we can be. We have to work pretty hard at defining it our way, both inside and outside of institutional, social and religious norms.
We care about the two people within it, the place we have in our community, in the lives of the children we care for and the other spaces we inhabit as individuals and as a couple. It’s hard work sometimes, we have to make time to talk, listen, have fun, work on projects together, plan trips, plan childcare and family occassions. With our living together there is a lot of mundane and humdrum in the running out of oil, getting a fence put in, folding laundry, forgetting to buy milk or toothpaste and hoovering the stairs. We are pursuing a physical and emotional intimacy that survives this and all that life throws at us, with many unknowns ahead.
We thought we knew and loved each other pretty well, snuggled up in the back of a wedding car, but we’ve found this knowledge and love to get deeper and stronger each and every year – and we laugh at ourselves then.
I’ve sat with two friends who’ve just marked a ten year anniversary who’ve had a lot of difficulties, both between each other and with what they’ve faced over the years. Quietly, and emotionally one of them says ‘it’s not really about who you marry – you could be married to anyone – it’s choosing your marriage day after day’.
As we face a vote in England and Wales today and hear all kinds of worryingly homophobic words and views in Northern Irish media and political land I’m keen to highlight that the mental health needs, bullying and violence towards LGB&T people are what should be a priority and a focus. However, equal marriage has my vote and it has my vote to be in churches where people of faith are happy to hold the ceremony and happy to seek out the marriage service there also.
I don’t think it’s radical, I think it makes sense, I think marriage has the potential to be devastating and it has the potential to be awesome and it’s got nothing to do with gender or gender roles.
Don’t tell me it’s just a word, or just a piece of paper – I believe in something covenantal about the vows I made – it’s not for everyone, but it’s something I wanted, and it’s influenced by a faith I have. The language and meaning attached to the word marriage – indeed the uproar for some about the potential inclusion – are simple demonstrators of how important marriage and it’s meaning can be.
Where people highlight the dictionary definition or the legal definition and the awfulness of this changing, I feel saddened by their own limited view of marriage – and can only take this as one of the indicators of poor conversation and ill equipping of people in our society about what marriage really is and inv0lves. There are many people in unhappy marriages who have been told that’s all marriage is.
To be quite honest – shame on our society, particularly those Christians in society who have taken so long to start thinking, talking and supporting same sex couples out there taking on the challenge of commitment; often alone, having beaten through waves of homophobia and mistreatment to take a risk and make some vows and then be told it’s not as good as or the same as marriage, so we’re calling it something different.
Please don’t patronise, belittle, downgrade, offend or discriminate because what institution and definition you uphold is narrow – commitment, relationships, visions and dreams are as commendable and worthy as anyone else’s.
Marriage comes in all shapes, sizes, colours and sounds – let’s stop denying people access and start creating conversation and material that helps people develop strong and healthy marriages regardless of gender.