Weddings Have Begun in D.C… What Now?
Last week the District of Columbia began accepting applications for marriage licenses from GLBT couples and, this week, after a mandatory waiting period, the weddings have begun. Now, amidst the first celebrations, the question is being asked again, as it was in Massachusetts, Iowa, Connecticut, Vermont, New Hampshire and, for a time, California: What now?
What now for the neighboring states that surround our nation’s capital? What now for churches that have not yet come to their own conclusion about marriage for GLBT couples? What now for couples who could marry in D.C. but not in the church they’ve attended for decades?
I recently traveled to Baltimore where I visited the lovely people at the Govans Presbyterian Church and met a couple who are struggling with just these questions. Their story has been in my heart all week.
During dinner I sat between Doug and Anthony, two retired gentlemen who worked in the public school system and who have been devoted partners for many years. They were also devoted members of their church. Anthony was the first to arrive to help set up the sound system, and the last to leave after helping clean up the kitchen. They were just that sort of couple — as devoted to their church and their community as they are to one another.
When the conversation turned to current events, Doug expressed a view I share: the couple makes the marriage. And so, he and Anthony have been and are married right now.
However, Doug went on to say that they were paying close attention to the extension of marriage rights to GLBT couples in the District of Columbia. He and Anthony were seriously considering filing for a marriage license there. They were very aware of comments made by their Attorney General in Maryland, who recently noted that nothing in Maryland law prohibits full recognition of marriage licenses held by GLBT Maryland residents issued by other jurisdictions like D.C.
Indeed, the historic precedent has always been that states will honor the marriage licenses issued by other states. To do otherwise invites chaos. The exception to this right is the present refusal by the national government and some states to recognize the legal civil marriages of same-gender loving couples. Refusing to recognize some legal marriages from other states just causes harm to earnest people and ignores long legal custom. The Attorney General of Maryland is right for recognizing that.
Another long tradition is that Reformed Churches cede to the civil authority the determination of rules concerning marriage. John Calvin arranged a system where the state sets the rules and the pastors apply them to couples seeking to be married. With no uniform civil understanding of marriage, my church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), is in a quandary about how to proceed as a denomination with churches active in states that grant marriage licenses to GLBT couples and states that don’t. With no shared law among the states, what is the PCUSA to do when our established practice is to follow the rules for marriage set down by the civil authority?
I say, leave it to the pastors who know the couples best. As wonderful couples like Doug and Anthony receive their right to civil marriage licenses, let’s bless their love, declare them married and cut the cake.