As a Unitarian Universalist minister, I am often called on by couples I don't know to perform their wedding ceremonies. These couples generally are from different religions or one is divorced or they don't belong to a church or synagogue. Before I will marry anyone, I ask to meet with them for a counseling session. It's a chance for them to meet me and decide if I am the right person to perform their act of marriage. It is my chance to meet them and decide if I feel that I can sanctify their marriage.
In these sessions, I try to assess whether if I can officiate with integrity at their wedding. I ask them tell me the story of how they met. I ask why they have decided to get married now. I ask about which issues divide them and how they handle anger with each other. I ask about their families of origin and how they relate to the future in-laws. We talk briefly about their attitudes about money, religion, and sex in marriage, and if they are young, about whether they want to have children or not and when.
I have given up trying to assess whether this couple will be one of the lucky half with an enduring marriage. Instead, I watch how they treat each other, how they look at each other as they tell their individual stories, whether there is genuine caring, friendship and respect in their relationship. I hope that they have a sense of humor and a deep commitment to the future of their relationship.
I ask them briefly if their sex life is happy, but I don't care what body part they like to put where or how often, and I don't care whether they are a man and a woman, two men, or two women. Yesterday, California became only the second state which doesn't care either. More must follow, until one day, the sex of the marriage partners won't matter.
What many people don't know is that a religious wedding ceremony alone does not confer the rights of marriage. Recognition of a legal marriage is not a religious issue. Regardless of whether that service is five minutes long or an hour worship service complete with rites and rituals, the couple is only married when I sign the license they have obtained from the town clerk's office. And depending on which state we are in, the requirements for signing that license varies: for example, in New York, we need two witnesses to sign the license, in Connecticut none. Indeed, each state has different requirements about who is legally allowed to perform marriages. Despite being an ordained minister, in many states I would be prohibited from performing marriages unless I had registered to do so with that state. And some states allow anyone to obtain a one day license to perform a legal wedding, regardless of their training or background.
I frankly feel funny sometimes acting as an agent of the state. The state of Connecticut has granted me the power to legally marry some people but not others. Sometimes I feel that I am legitimizing discrimination by doing so. Some of my clergy colleagues have decided to only perform religious ceremonies, telling couples that they will have to have their licenses signed elsewhere until the day that they can marry all couples. Now religious leaders who chose to can marry any couple in California and Massachusetts. I hope we will soon in Connecticut. But no religious leader will be required to do so.
At least seven religious denominations now officially allow clergy to perform same sex unions, and more allow local clergy to do so. More than 2700 clergy and theologians from more than 50 faith traditions have signed the Religious Declaration on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing which in part calls for full inclusion of LGBT persons in congregation life, including ordination and same sex unions.
I tell couples when I perform weddings, "You both know that although the state will make your union legal today and that this religious ceremony will bless you, it is only your commitment that will make this marriage real." But offering same sex couples the same rights, the same responsibilities, and the opportunity to participate in all that makes a marriage, including the use of the words, will help these couples and their children honor those commitments.