by Thomas Dukes
I need to testify. When my spouse and I got married twelve years ago, we wanted to do so in our Episcopal church. The rector at the time offered to bless our union in a private home but not in our church; I suspect he was afraid of losing his job, perhaps not without reason. The church I attend is indeed open, inclusive, and diverse, and far more entertaining than that would suggest, but at the time, some families—most have since left anyway—would not have been happy.
Henry and I went to Vermont first, where we were joined in civil union by a justice of the peace, then to Canada two years later, where we were married by a Unitarian Universalist pastor. Our own church got a rector who did her first same-sex blessing five days after she arrived—of course, all the proper preliminary work for and by the couple had been done long before—and the place was filled with people and love. By then, however, Henry and I, still feeling a bit stung, just shrugged off her kind and gracious invitation to do the same for us. After all, we were happy, we had two sets of paperwork: what more could we need?
A lot, it turned out. Our first five years were terrific, then for reasons too personal to go into here, we drifted apart. It took two years for me to work up the strength/courage/understanding/nerve to leave, but early this January, I did. The church was there this time, in the presence of the rector. She was of immense practical help, but that was almost beside the point. We lifted boxes together and discussed why I was doing what I was doing; I came to understand, later, that this was holy work: necessary, hard, and heart-breaking, but holy. My ex-spouse and I still carry the cross from this and will for a long time to come, perhaps for the rest of our lives, even as remain very close friends.
Thus, I offer one more reason that the Episcopal Church should perform same-sex marriages. Not blessings of same-sex civil unions or civil marriages, but the sacrament of marriage for same-sex couples, regardless of the laws of the state, for if the church is there at the start, the church can and will be there at the end, and the end always comes, either through the death of one spouse or separation and divorce. That the church may at times have failed heterosexual widows and widowers or divorced people is beside the point; the church always fails us at times because it is human just as it is divine. But if the structure is there, the possibility for the kind of necessary holy work and community that we all need at various points in our lives is also there.
So let us join in prayer and community and offer up a sense of the ending as well as a sense of the beginning to same-sex and heterosexual couples. Let us recognize again that God’s presence is everywhere, and our work for Him is everywhere, even or perhaps especially at a marriage’s end.
Thomas Dukes is a Professor of English at The University of Akron, Ohio.