Later this month we will be celebrating thirty years of mixed marriage. Some people said it couldn’t last, and it’s true: we come from radically different cultures whose members have battled each other off and on since pre-history and still struggle today. But we persisted. We beat the odds. Statistics vary, but some sources say close to fifty percent of marriages like ours will fail. Yes, a marriage between one man and one woman, a mixed gender marriage, which some people and some legislative bodies, like the New York State Senate, insist is the only kind of marriage there is.
I am not only a thirty year veteran of a mixed gender marriage, my husband and I are also minority members in our immediate and extended family. When we gather around a holiday table, more than half the company is gay. When I consider my circle of friends and my wider community, the same is true. The difference in our minority status is that no one discriminates against us, passes moral judgment on us, or deprives us of our civil rights.
I am also an interfaith minister and a couples counselor. As a minister, I have helped many people create their wedding ceremonies. If they want to write their own vows, I don’t stand in their way, but I always put in a plug for the traditional vows: “for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health, until we are parted by death.” That’s what marriage is, making those vows to another person and having the guts, grace, and good luck to keep them. Nothing more, and nothing less.
I rarely perform marriages anymore, because it feels like a blurring of the separation of church and state for me, as a member of the clergy, to sign a state document. I also don’t like to offer a service to mixed gender couples that I am not allowed by law to provide for same gender couples. Here’s a common sense solution that would preserve the boundary between church and state. All unions should be civil unions with all rights accorded equally to all couples, mixed or same gender. The marriage ceremony as a blessing of the union could then be performed by the church, clergyperson, religious tradition, or community that the couple chooses. Of course, some churches will not bless same gender marriages, but many will and already do, as do many interfaith ministers like me.
During our long marriage, we have been through many phases, including one where it seemed as though all our friends’ marriages were breaking up. For reassurance I called the most stable couple I knew. “Are you all right?” I asked. “You’re not breaking up, are you?” They assured me they were fine. Of course, they were a same gender couple, and didn’t have the challenges of a mixed marriage. They celebrated their thirtieth anniversary last year.