What’s the big deal about marriage?

Saturday night found me in a bachelorette party at a popular gay club in Mt. Vernon.

I was with my daughters, one of them the bride to be, my sister, some friends and about 10 sorority girls.

We were singing karaoke with all the aplomb and staggering talent as one can see in the rejects episode of American Idol.

There I was, screeching my version of Tammy “Why Not”s  Stand by Your Man when a strong realization hit me.

My daughter was about to get married.

She stood in front of me in her leopard print tights (it was a jungle themed party) with a plastic tiara/veil on her intoxicated head and she grinned as I crooned the lyrics that I both believe with all my heart and scoff at with contempt.

“You’ll have bad times. He’ll have good times doing things that you don’t understand.”

Granted, the song was written for another era – my mother’s era.

My mother stayed with a man for her entire life because her church dictated that she should.

Or maybe she stayed with him because she was afraid to leave.  Or, maybe she loved him.

I’m not sure exactly why she stayed with him but she did.

She stayed with him through drunkenness.

She stayed with him through abuse.

She stayed with him even as he seriously damaged her babies.

“Stand by your man” I sang to my girl even though I have been divorced for twice as long as I was married and I have left more men than I can count.

The damage caused to me by my father’s abuse and my mother’s commitment to him made it nearly impossible for me to tolerate a man in my life in any consistent capacity.

But, who knows, I might have been just as damaged if they divorced.

I have a friend who wants very much to have children but he can’t make the marriage commitment because of the traumatic memories of his parents’ separation.

When I suggest that he have children without marriage he looks at me as if I were suggesting the cold hearted killing of a puppy.

What’s the big deal about marriage?

And why do so many people spend so much of their energy judging and condemning others for their choices in marriage.

I have relatives who want to boycott my big-hearted daughter’s wedding because she has chosen not to marry in the church.

I have other relatives who will fight against my brother’s right to marry at all because who he loves is different from who they love.

I know people who believe that my divorce condemns me to either a life alone or a life of sin if I choose to marry again.

It’s as if marriage is considered the one sure way to happiness and righteous living unless you get it wrong. Then it ruins your life and catapults you directly into hell.

I sang Stand by Your Man to my daughter and a lot of other people.
I sang “Stand by Your Man” to my daughter and a lot of other people.

To what other topic of debate do we assign so much black and white thinking?

What’s the big deal about marriage?

Aren’t there other, more significant things in this world to worry about?

Marriage has been a part of the human experience since before recorded history but it hasn’t stayed the same for all this time.  Initially it was designed as a form of comfort for men and protection for women.

The Bible makes references to marriage in (Genesis 2:18) “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him…and while he was sleeping, he took one of the man’s ribs and closed up the place with flesh. From that he made a woman…”

The Qur’an also mentions the comfort of a spouse:  “And one of His signs is that He created mates for you from yourselves that you may find quiet of mind in them and He put between you love and compassion.” (30 : 21).

The Bible may have stated that the purpose of marriage was to populate the earth but I think if we were to check in with God today he would agree that we’ve pretty well got that covered now.

Marriage morphed into a form of controlling and owning women and then morphed again into an expression of love and commitment between a man and a woman.

Now it is morphing into an expression of love and commitment between two consenting adults.

And why not, really? The world is a tiny bit different than it was in Adams day.

He didn’t have to wade through a sea of frightened and damaged people to find the one suitable companion.

He took a nap and woke up with the perfect partner hand selected by God

But the rest of us have to go through our paces in this harsh and lonely world. With all the war and crime and pain and suffering it’s not easy to keep going day after day.

It is still true that being alone makes it all the harder to navigate and so the idea of a “helper” is a lovely one.

That’s why, no matter what the odds of success in marriage these days, it is still a very popular ideal that we hold on to.

I learned a few years back that I could get a minister’s license on line. No theology instruction, no counselors training, just 45 bucks and an email address got me a clergy parking pass and the title of Reverend.

I thought that was hilarious.

Then my dear friend called me from France to say her man has proposed to her and she wants me to officiate the ceremony.

At first, I thought I would make the whole thing one giant stand-up comedy routine.

Then, as the day drew nearer, I realized that this event was the culmination of two people’s hopes and dreams for happiness.

This was significant. So I wrote a ceremony with all my heart.

I thought about life and love and faith and hope. I thought about sex and romance and boredom and betrayal and successes and failures.

I wrote a ceremony that encouraged both the husband and wife to stay with each other through all of that.  Stay – I told them.

And there I was, many years and wedding ceremonies later,  singing to my daughter. “Keep giving all the love you can.”

I hope she can do that. I hope her husband can do it for her as well. I hope they can learn and grow together and be a comfort to each other.

I looked out over the faces of the 20 odd men who were raptly watching me sing a song that clearly resonated with each and every one of them.

One man ran up to me and grabbed both of my hands when I finished the song.  He didn’t say anything but thank you and I nearly wept when he did.

He, and every man there, was only recently awarded the right to marry legally in the state of Maryland.

He wants to be able to stand by someone and to help them be the best person they can be.

He wants to believe that someone will stand by him in the same way.

He wants to live in a world that will cheer for him as enthusiastically as he and his friends cheered for my daughter when she burst into the room with that silly veil on her head.

They’re getting married.

I guess that’s a pretty big deal.