Neither Church nor state invented marriage, and neither can change its nature.
I’ve heard similar comments from many other opponents of same-sex marriage. To some extent, I agree with the Archbishop. If tomorrow morning Congress passed a law redefining the word “marriage’ to mean “delicious circular bread which is boiled then baked,” no one would accept that a bagel is a marriage. The government cannot radically change the meaning of marriage.
So why do millions of Americans accept that same-sex marriages are marriages?
The first time I attended a same-sex wedding was 1986, long before any court or legislature was prepared to recognize same-sex marriage. A woman and a woman got married, and none of us needed a law passed to understand that it was a marriage.
This was around the same time (give or take a few years) that the cartoonist Howard Cruse, in his groundbreaking comic strip “Wendel,” had his main characters Ollie and Wendel share a dream in which they were married, with all their friends and relatives in attendance. (And Smokey the Bear as the officiant). “Wendel” was published at first in a gay newspaper, and later in the nationwide gay magazine “The Advocate”; I doubt that any of Cruse’s thousands of readers had to have the concept of marriage between two men explained. Because it was too obvious to need explanation.
Same-sex marriage was not invented in a courtroom, or a state congress. Lgbt people, and those who love them, knew about same-sex marriage years before the government knew about it. It came into being as a natural outgrowth of people’s lives.
The Archbishop is correct to say that the government can’t change marriage. But that’s not what the marriage equality debate is about. For vast numbers of Americans, marriage has already changed (just as it’s changed many times before).
I’m not going to stop considering my married same-sex friends married, no matter what the law says. Neither will millions of others. The Archbishop and his allies have no power to stop gay marriage.
The only thing opponents of same-sex marriage can do is prevent the government from recognizing all these existing marriages. That hurts a lot. It hurts because it sends a message of rejection to all lgbt people. It also hurts on a practical level — it means same-sex couples and their children will sometimes be poorer, sometimes lack legal protection, sometimes be kept apart by immigration laws, sometimes be kept apart in hospitals.
But no matter how much hurt they cause, it won’t mean, and will never mean, that same-sex marriage is not a reality.
Here’s what the Archbishop doesn’t understand: Neither Church nor state invented gay marriage, and neither can take it away.