Recalling the legal history of marriage tends to evoke a sense of God's mystery, irony and humor. I must admit that my initial reaction to the idea of adapting the Quaker marriage ceremony to celebrate the commitment of same sex couples was: God's will does work in mysterious ways.
There is, after all, some irony in God's using an unprogrammed meeting of the Religious Society of Friends to act as legally-authorized "official" clergy of the State of Maryland in ceremonies which legalize heterosexual relationships.
This sense of irony is compounded when one considers that Friends, who generally disavow oaths, sacramental rights and military systems, joyfully participate in marriage ceremonies which, as we have seen, were adopted by the legal systems of our culture from a sacramental rite of medieval Catholicism - a sacramental rite which, in turn, was the early church's adaption of a Roman military oath in order to better enforce an ancient Judaic code governing acceptable heterosexual activity. That our Annapolis Monthly Meeting is now working to adapt its "marriage" practices to ceremonies of commitment by same sex couples seems a very nice further irony indeed.
Upon further reflection, however, I came to realize that these small ironies were largely superficial - unexpected twists and adaptions in the form of things, not in the substance. At a deeper level, by reflecting upon the subject of marriage, we are offered important insights into the relationship between social order and personal love: the relationship between the ceremony which creates legally recognized marital status and the resulting marital relationship "under the care of the Meeting".
Most persons who marry are in love, but the legal institution of marriage does not require love and is concerned, primarily, with duty and with the social order. Nevertheless, the law's articulation and enforcement of duty, and the security derived from the legal order, are important foundations upon which legally married couples may build and maintain loving family relationships.
When the Religious Society of Friends takes a marriage "under the care of the meeting", the Meeting is helping to establish the legal foundation for the marriage. The Meeting is also operating in the spiritual context of a higher and quite different system - a system of ideas and personal relationships which seeks to solve (not merely to resolve) the problems of life through loving acknowledgment of that of God in every person.
Since Friends are denied the legal authority to provide same sex couples with the public acknowledgment and legally enforceable security of marital status, it is the ideals, support and personal relationships available "under the care of the Meeting" which Friends may contribute to the long-term success of same sex relationships.
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