President Obama and Marriage

I’m pleased that President Obama has now come out and stated that he supports the right of same-sex couples to marry. I’m interested too that it has taken him so long to say so publicly and in the various things (his children’s views, his colleagues lives) that he cited as reasons for his position “evolving” over time.
There has been some scorn about this business of his position evolving over time. I’ve got some sympathy on both sides of those sneers. On the one hand, there are many who believe that it would have been good for President Obama to have come out about his support some time ago and I can hear their anger that he hasn’t. On the other hand, I know that vast numbers of people who are supportive of same-sex marriage have come to that view over time as their thinking about it has evolved. I know mine did. I was opposed to same-sex marriage for a long time. Indeed, I was not that convinced about any kind of marriage believing that perhaps the baggage that marriage was carrying was simply too much for modern people who needed new institutions where one partner did not belong to the other or get given away by a father-figure or be all bound up in a narrative about chattels changing hands.
However, that was to underestimate the capacity of marriage to change. Like many other conservative institutions (the monarchy, the Tory party etc) marriage is a shape-shifter. Unlike love, marriage bends with the remover to remove. And to think of marriage only in terms of its baggage is to deny the possibility of institutions evolving to suit the times.
I’ve said many times that the publication of the Scottish Episcopal Church’s marriage liturgy was more revolutionary because it saw the parties as equal, mutual participants than because it did not mention their gender terribly much. Marriage has changed in our church. Recognising that change was part of the evolution of my thinking about the issue. My greatest change about came when I had actually become involved in a couple of civil partnership blessings. It was obvious to me that as they developed services to bless and honour and affirm their civil unions something sacramental was going on, and it was a sacrament that I recognised from when I did similar things with straight couples. The outward signs were very similar. The inner grace was identical.
That experience, of my own ideas being changed by couples celebrating their unions before God has made me very suspicious of the opinions of bishops on this matter. After all, the Scottish Bishops ruled themselves out of even attending civil partnerships a few years ago. In doing so they put themselves in a stupid place – a place where they can only speak about the issue from the shifting sands of deliberate ignorance. It it time that nonsense came to an end.
I understand those who feel that President Obama has waited just a little too long to be supportive. I think that one of the ethical places that we are coming to is to recognise that support for same-sex couples that is merely private is merely hypocritical. And we’ve had far too much of that in the church for far too long.
Yet still, I’m pleased with today’s news.
God bless President Obama.
Four More Years!


  1. Susan Sheppard Hedges says

    Rachel Maddow spoke about his reticence to name it on her show last night. I think she did a good thing by pointing out all the positive things President Obama’s administration has done for Gay people. I think she was addressing Gays that have been disappointed that he has “done nothing” for them during his first term.

  2. Blair Robertson says

    Change we can believe in!

  3. Craig Nelson says

    It is a very positive development at precisely the time that David Cameron is backtracking on it for England and Wales. God willing, Scotland will follow Obama’s lead.

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