7. SAME SEX RELATIONSHIPS OF COMMITMENT "UNDER THE CARE OF THE MEETING"

As I have noted, the Maryland Legislature has acted to expressly limit the legal status of marriage to relationships between men and women. Same sex couples are not legally eligible to marry, and Annapolis Monthly Meeting is not legally authorized to perform "marriage" ceremonies for them. Since the Clerk of Court will not issue a marriage license to same sex couples (FL, 2-405(f)), and since it is a misdemeanor in Maryland to "...perform a marriage ceremony without a license..." (FL, 2-406(e)), Ceremonies of Commitment should not even purport to "marry" same sex couples.

I have also noted that, 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.

This is not to suggest, however, that the absence of a predetermined legal structure for same sex relationships should be ignored by the couple, or by the Meeting, when the Meeting is considering whether to take a same sex relationship of commitment "under the care of the meeting". To the contrary, the absence of the mutual security structure provided by the law to married couples will present major practical concerns for a same sex couple and, indirectly, for the Meeting which takes their relationship under it continuing care and concern. The couple should be strongly counseled to create such a structure for themselves.

Contractual measures of mutual security and support are available to same sex couples, although they may not utilize their physical relationship as a precondition to or basis for those agreements. Because the law denies same sex couples the legal security of marriage (such as it is), and because same sex couples are likely to face societal resistance to their relationships, contractual measures of mutual security may be more important for same sex couples than for married couples.

A same sex couple's consideration and implementation of a regime of mutual, contractual security would be a tangible manifestation of their loving commitment to a permanent loving relationship. Since love seems to grow better in a garden of mutual security, contractual measures of mutual security further the relationship by compensating, in part, for the law's failure to provide marital security. In those circumstances where, despite the couple's best initial intentions and subsequent effort, a parting becomes necessary, a contractual regime of mutual security between them would also further the Friendly advice that the couple "...should work for an amicable parting, avoiding if possible adversarial proceedings." (F&P, 20).

The Meeting should not attempt to give the couples legal advice but, rather, to identify qualified legal counsel willing to assist same sex couples on an ability-to-pay basis.

Faith and Practice does not consider Ceremonies of Commitment for same sex couples. It does have something to say, however, about the Meeting's attitude toward atypical family relationships (F&P, 18-19):

" Friends have a loving concern for the varieties of supportive relationships that exist. We realize that the range of long-term mutual commitments is now wider than traditionally accepted. Our Meeting communities now include persons living alone, two-parent families, married and unmarried couples, homosexual and heterosexual couples, single adults or extended families sharing a household, and larger communal groups. At present [1988] Friends are divided on the wisdom or rightness of some of these relationships. Nevertheless, we recognize that there are many kinds of living situations in which individuals have made long-term commitments to each other and in which a caring, sharing, supportive relationship can grow. We are all called to make our primary relationships responsible, loving, mutually enabling, and spiritually enriching....

" Our Meetings and communities are composed of persons who live in many kinds of home situations. All of us as individuals, as well as our Meetings collectively, need to create an atmosphere that is accepting, supportive and caring toward all the persons in our midst, whatever their domestic groupings, enabling all of us to grow and share with each other."

By the statement of principles set forth in its March 5th minutes, Annapolis Monthly Meeting affirmed that committed, loving, and permanent same sex relationships are "good", and began a process of creating an atmosphere which is accepting, loving and caring toward same sex partners. The same minutes recognized that same sex relationships are not "marriage", in the legal sense of the term. Nevertheless, the Meeting also recognized that some same sex relationships should involve the Meeting, through a process of clearness and unity, bringing those relationships under the continuing care and concern of the Meeting.

Implicit in this recognition, I would think, is the recognition that same sex relationships deserve support and dignity equal to that accorded marriage. Also implicit in this recognition, however, is that same sex couples confront a social and legal reality which is different from that enjoyed by married couples. As a result, the "care of the Meeting" appropriate to same sex relationships of commitment may differ, somewhat, from that accorded marriages.

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