Maine is getting ready to vote tomorrow on the legalization of gay marriages. With conservatives hopped up on fears that such a move will destroy traditional, patriarchal privilege, the Bible is beaten rather severely as proponents seek evidence for man + woman = marriage in holy writ. The funny thing is, the Bible says very little about marriage.
In an era when marriage is often associated with houses of worship and a smiling, tolerant divine face beaming down on a couple about to do “the bad thing” with divine sanction, it is difficult to realize just how little the Bible talks about it. The Hebrew Bible is particularly mute when it comes to the particulars of wedding ceremonies: “Then Isaac brought here into his mother Sarah’s tent. He took Rebekah, and she became his wife,” according to Genesis 24.67. No sacral ceremony here, by prior arrangement, sex equals marriage. A few chapters later when his son Jacob marries, there is a feast mentioned, but no sacerdotal functionary hovering nearby (one who might have actually noticed that Jacob ended up with the wrong woman, by the by). And so the biblical narrative limps on with patriarchs bedding and marrying their women with no mention of God. Eventually religious folks got a little nervous about this and ceremonies with divine approval were introduced, but that is not even in the case with the wedding at Cana, which, in desperation, the Book of Common Prayer latches onto for a marriage lection: “The bond and covenant of marriage was established by God in creation, and our Lord Jesus Christ adorned this manner of life by his presence and first miracle at a wedding in Cana of Galilee” (the Order for The Celebration and Blessing of a Marriage). Apart from the difficulty of a covenant being an uneasy peace between a superior and inferior party, this introduction relies on a literal Adam and Eve and the means for a large wedding party to get drunk, courtesy of the miracle in Cana. Apart from Paul’s putative comments regarding the marital status of early church leaders, we hear little else in the Bible.
I have nothing against weddings; I was the groom in a particularly stylish wedding in Ames, Iowa some years back. The problem I see is that the Bible is being forced to say what it does not. If the few biblical marriages are all heterosexual, it simply reflects the options open at the time. How does allowing gay marriages threaten the marital bless of the heterosexual? It seems to me that the only thing to be lost is “privileged status” and benefits allotted to those formally united in the eyes of the law. Unless things have changed recently, even in a religious marriage a state-issued license is required! Why not allow firm affirmations and privileges of loving couples without relying on non-existent biblical platitudes? I hope Maine will do the right thing tomorrow.