Reflections on Marriage

I’m preparing to get married later this month, and admittedly, there is not as much time as I would like to reflect on the whole process.  There’s basically just too many details to think about with all the guests coming into town.  Luckily, we’ve been planning it for 10 months so there have been gaps where I have been able to put some thought into the process, which I would love to share here.

One good part about this process is that we’ve had a lot of gay and lesbian friends remind us that no matter how tedious things seem, as a heterosexual couple, we have it easy.  And they’re right.  The amount of love and support we received from our family members and friends during this process is simply incredible.  I can’t help but think that if I had found myself with another man, the amount of emotional and monetary support would be miniscule.  It’s a reflection on our culture and what even the most well-intentioned family members and friends value.

We came from a state (California) where same-sex unions are being valued as a possibility (we’ll see whether Governor Schwarzenegger terminates the legislation later this year).  In my opinion, it’s all well and good that states like California, Vermont, and Massachusetts are opening up opportunities for gay and lesbian couples to have significant rights as a couple, whether it’s tax breaks or just the ability to visit a partner in the hospital.  These are things that are taken for granted by so many heterosexual couples in our society, including myself and my fiancee.

During my Canon Law course this past semester, the professor (who also serves as a tribunal judge in a diocese in California) was explaining to us that a Church marriage is supposed to be much more of a covenant than a contract when compared to a civil marriage.  The amount of paperwork required for the two processes does not back that up.

Yesterday, we went to the Dane County Clerk’s office in downtown Madison, Wisconsin to apply for our civil marriage license.  It cost $115, but other than that it was fairly painless.  There was metered parking for 25 minutes right outside City Hall, but I parked in a garage, figuring we needed more time.  We were in and out in 20 minutes.  It basically required knowing our social security numbers and parents’ names, and signing a couple forms.  We are now licensed to wed.

The amount of paperwork required by the Diocese of Madison is about as much as a first-time home loan.  We had to get forms signed to do the ceremony in my fiancee’s home faith tradition, other forms for our witnesses to sign in front of a priest (it should be noted that the priests they signed these forms in front of did not know us as a couple nor the witnesses at all – they were just close in proximity to where the witnesses live).  We basically had to sign off and acknowledge that we had never been married before (same with civil), and that we were capable of performing the ‘marriage act’ (who came up with that phrase?).

Now we’re set to wed but I can’t help and reflect on what the Roman Catholic Church has set out for its two primary goals of marriage between a man and a woman.  The two purposes are reportedly equal in value since the Second Vatican Council of the 1960s: to promote the love and unity of the couple, and to bear and raise children in the Catholic faith.

Of course, we love each other or we wouldn’t be going through something as silly as vowing to spend the rest of our lives together.  You have to be somewhat crazy to think that you can do that.  It makes sense for us, but I feel bad for all those who feel suckered into it because of it being the norm in our society.  Obviously, it only works half the time (and even for those who are still together, it’s hard to say how well it’s working).  We’ve been engaged for a little over a year and together for maybe three (the start time is hazy).  It’s humbling to think of the same-sex couples who have been together for two or three decades (or even longer), and yet still don’t have their love for each other and unity with each other recognized by the Church nor state.

It’s been a long road and a lot of discussions, but it is highly probable that we will have at least one child.  It’s unclear whether we will have the kid on our own or if we will adopt.  My fiancee started to cry the other night during the NBA Finals when they did a story on Boston Celtics forward Leon Powe, who lived in foster care in Oakland for a few years when his mom either went to prison or relapsed with drugs (sorry, it was hard to hear at the bar).  Now he’s on track to be the NBA Finals MVP after scoring 21 points in 15 minutes against the favored Lakers.  Being able to provide a home like that for someone in need is appealing.  Providing foster care as a first step is appealing to be able to have a child in our home, and then take a break to reflect on how we can do it better (obviously that’s hard to do when you become committed for life to a kid).

The irony is that while I think we’d be pretty good at providing a home for a child, there are plenty of same-sex couples that could provide just as good a home or even better.  It’s sick when people put the argument out there that children need both a mom and a dad in the home in order to have a good life.  There’s too many kids who don’t have a good life with a mom and dad in the home, and too many kids that have a fine life while being raised by a same-sex couple.  It’s fodder and not fact.

The undeniable fact is that there are many examples of people who need love, whether it is in a loving relationship with a partner or as a child.  Hopefully, as a church and a society, we can get better at recognizing that we have to shift the way we do things in order to create more possibilities for this love to be expressed.  The Church’s goals for marriage have a lot of possibility to them for promoting love for spouse and love for children.

9 thoughts on “Reflections on Marriage

  1. This is a beautiful reflection, Mike. My spouse and I struggled with the injustice of having both a civil and sacramental wedding while so many people we loved cannot yet. I also reflected deeply on the having-babies aspect of marriage, and what that meant to us. Our priest (thankfully) allowed us to change the question of consent relating to children to, “Will you create your family in the spirit of Christian community, honoring the sacredness of each member?” We wanted something to reflect the reality that we may or may not “grow our own,” we may adopt or welcome foster children, and we may be called to open our home to friends in need – all ways of welcoming children from God.

  2. I agree, this is a really beautiful reflection, thank you for posting it.

    I’m really glad the priest let you change the wording JJ to reflect the true meaning for you and your spouse as to creating family.

    I think adoption and foster care is another way for us to exercise our belief in right to life. ‘I came so that you would have life and have life abundantly.’

    And yes, just having a man and a woman for marriage and for parents does not mean that it will be a good home. My goodness. I can think of many scenarios where it is a man and a woman specifically who violate the sanctity of marriage, not loving and committed gay and lesbian couples (not that I’m being blind and think all gay couples are loving and committed though but for those who are, we must make way for them to have the rights due to them). I wish there was some sort of screening for people before they become parents!!!! Or required counseling, or something! ugh. I am glad the screening for adoption and foster parenting is in place but hope that it is all meaningful and important, not just hoops for hoops sake.

  3. >>”I feel bad for all those who feel suckered into [marriage] because of it being the norm in our society. Obviously, it only works half the time (and even for those who are still together, it’s hard to say how well it’s working).”<<

    I know the above was just a side note in your wonderful post, but it really made me think about the pressure put on us to get married, even in this modern age. In my large, extended family (I am the youngest of 41 first cousins), I am the ONLY woman in the bunch who made it past 22 without getting married/and or pregnant. Almost three years later, many of my family members still don’t quite know what to do with me because I’ve forgone the traditional norms and customs of their adulthood rituals and pursued education and a career rather than immediately fulfilling what they feel is the life’s work of a woman: finding a man and producing grandchildren-you can tell that my parents aren’t placing ANY pressure on me, their only child ;).

    I’m certainly not saying that I may not get married in the future, but I keep being told by my family, numerous friends (many of whom in college were working for the M.R.S. along with their B.A.’s), the gigantic wedding industry in this country and even church pressure for that marriage vocation, that I am not fulfilling my role as an adult unless I say “I do” and get a 30 year mortgage. From the time we are little girls, we are pressured to start dreaming of our big day and insert the man when we find him (heterosexistly assuming we are straight of course). And when I’ve mentioned to friends that I cannot at this point picture myself wearing an overpriced, poofy wedding dress, I get the looks that I am some how demented, though I do realize that wearing white is simply putting on our baptismal garment for another sacrament, yet I don’t think God intended for it to cost thousands of dollars… Perhaps this is just becoming a rant, but I really and truly believe that these pressures for “the perfect day” and getting your life in order by getting married may even add to the failure rates of marriage in this country (as Rick magnificently pointed out). It places much more emphasis on the outward ritual than the sacrament that one must live out daily in their marriage. Is there a way to end this cycle or is it simply what we are really suppose to be doing?

  4. Becky, it’s a tricky thing to plan the ‘perfect day’ in order to have the perfect marriage. The amount of recommendations and expectations for how to do things is incredible. It’s easy to get caught up in all of it. I think the best thing that has worked for us is to take things slowly, take breaks from wedding planning, remember what it’s supposed to be about, and be very clear about what we want as a couple. We’ve come up with some other tricks too: we haven’t delegated much to our parents and other friends/relatives, as we know that they want certain extravagant things that we don’t want to come close to. It’s probably been more work for us but it really feels like the day and weekend are going to be a reflection for us.

    As for the industry, who knows how to combat that other than to get a good spam filter! Actually, it’s easy enough to get rid of emails from wedding-related companies, but Facebook also produces a lot of spam once you changed your relationship status to engaged. I believe that the average cost of a wedding in the United States is somewhere around $30,000 or $35,000. Our goal is to do half of that. Even if we do that, it’s still the most expensive production we’ve ever been involved with. Kinda sickening …

  5. Yeah, we’re trying to keep our wedding costs down, but we’re finding that the toughest part about an affordable wedding is keeping the guest list down. We both have large families, and we’re close to many of them, so we don’t want to leave anybody out. And then there are the family members who will “count heads” and then tell all their close relatives that “so-and-so was there, why weren’t these people invited?” and try to stir up old family conflicts … uggh. Some days, it’s enough to make you want to elope…

  6. Don’t get me wrong, I know that wedding planning is NOT easy, especially for socially conscious folks like you. I have a strong suspicion that the current fad for destination weddings (traveling to a tropical location to get married) is completely based on cost. The honeymoon and wedding get all wrapped into one and the guest list is cut to only those willing to spring for the airfare and hotel. The obvious drawback for Catholics who view the importance of marriage as a sacrament is that your wedding doesn’t take place in your parish community where the people who will be there to support you Sunday after Sunday can be present.

    The whole wedding thing (not really the marriage thing-that I get!) sort of boggles my mind: from the social pressure, to the traditions that people feel compelled to do even though they don’t understand them (I recently learned that bridesmaids came into being so as to confuse evil spirits wanting to enter the bride…all of the women would be dressed up and the spirits wouldn’t know who to attack!), to the lack of a sacramental understanding, to the sheer cost ($30,000 on average-for real?!?!?!) It is a good thing I don’t have an engagement ring on my finger at the moment. I might just end up eloping, as you suggest Josh!

    Side note on Facebook, I didn’t realize that they based ads on one’s status information. That’s actually pretty clever on the marketing side. Unfortunately for them (and why I didn’t realize it), I’ve never aligned myself with any relationship status, sexuality or gender for that matter. So instead, I get a hodge pod of ads that range from online dating services, to relationship counseling, to breakup advice, to wedding planning, to “are you questioning if you are gay?” and to lingerie ads for both men and women. I guess they figure one of them will fit!

  7. Oh marriage! Yes, we definitely have to be more realistic about the wedding day and the marriage, and avoid the fairytale image we are so prone to. When the relationship doesnt live up to that insane expectation, and the challenges of marriage are high, we want to jump ship.

    I have two resources I love to tell people about in terms of romance and marriage. (and it can extend elsewhere too):

    Getting the love you want by Harvile Hendricks. Its old, but so true. And its a self help book but really helpful and deep. It basically breaks down the reasons behind why we choose who we choose to marry. Yes, we have subconscious reasons, but they’re not all bad especially if you have two people who are willing to attend to the wounds of the other in a mutual relationship of healing. Now that sounds fairytale, doesnt it?!

    The Five Love Languages by Gary Chapman (and now also the 5 languages of apology). We all say ‘I love you’ and ‘I’m sorry’ in different ways. The key is to knowing how the other says it so we don’t miss it. If we can interpret the “language” they use, we won’t miss out on depth of feelings and meaningful moments. And we can avoid resentments. somewhat!

  8. Thank you for this thoughtful reflection; I especially appreciate the time you spent contrasting your experiences / opportunities with those of GLBT folks. The reluctance to let GLBT folks marry and/or foster and adopt children really boggles my mind. There’s a lot I don’t know or understand about God, but one think I feel certain of is that love is from God, and that love is good and blessed. So it makes absolutely no sense to me that people use God as an excuse for interfering with honest love, whether it be for a partner or a child. I feel confident that God does bless homosexual unions — which are about love and not sex as opponents seem to want to believe — and I wish more religious communities would reflect that.

    Your story about the additional “hoops” you had to jump through for the sacramental part of your marriage brought to mind a couple experiences I’ve had with friends or acquaintances soon to be married. In one case, a dear friend wanted to marry her fiance in the Catholic tradition; both of them had been baptized and raised Catholic, but she had never been confirmed Catholic because her parents went through a divorce and her family moved away from their Catholic community, and they found a Lutheran Church to be more welcoming during those years. The priest insisted that she wasn’t “really” Catholic and therefore couldn’t have a Catholic wedding, even though her fiance had been baptized and confirmed Catholic and both of them were practicing. It was pretty devastating to her.

    I know another couple for whom the priest refused to preside over the marriage sacrament because the male had cancer and was sterile; he considered that the marriage wouldn’t be valid because there was little to no chance that it would produce children. I’m pretty sure this is NOT in line with Church teaching, but in both cases it was hard to see how much power one priest could have over couple’s decision to move forward in their love for one another. So even though heterosexual couples do have it comparatively “easy,” there still seem to be a lot of people who want to make sacramental love into a trial instead of a celebration.

    Congratulations on your upcoming marriage, by the way! I think your reflectiveness upon the occasion bodes well for your future.

  9. Congratulations!! There was a documentary I watched once — Lacey, do you remember the title? — about a gay couple who wanted to be married in the Catholic church. They ended up having a full Catholic Mass with a Dignity priest in an Episcopal church that was being renovated. I remember remarking that people could get married to God (priests, nuns) in the Catholic faith, but same-sex couples still can’t? If being married to God isn’t a funky and creative (and incredible) union — yet one that may be considered a little risque — what about GLBTQ couples?

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