Posted by: smstrouse | August 29, 2018

Do I Have the Right Not to Marry?

marraigejpg-2429551_lgIsn’t it ironic?
For so many years, I supported the right of LGBTQ people to get married. And I rejoice with those who have made that decision. I’ve presided at same-gender weddings and celebrated at their receptions. I support the right to marry for all those who want to marry. And I also support the right not to marry. But I’ve discovered that my insurance company does not agree with me. 

Having been through two disastrous marriages myself, I am convinced that it’s not for everyone. Whatever the reason (e.g. poor parental role models), some of us do not do well in this kind of commitment. Now don’t get me wrong; I am not anti-commitment. In fact, I’m in a domestic partnership; we have the certificate to prove it. And the state of California grants us the same rights and privileges as marriage – without the religious, legal, and emotional baggage.

The state of California recognizes this arrangement, as does my church denomination. However, the insurance company of my denomination does not. They used to include coverage for the domestic partner of a contributing member – until same-gender marriage became legal. So now I can’t put my partner on my policy. Either she has to pay for her own, doubling our health care budget or I have to opt out of my plan. 

Danger! Danger! Warning!
An article in the Fordham Law Review comes at it from a legal perspective:
When I refer to a “right not to marry,” I refer to the right to be free from state-imposed marriage as a matter of current U.S. constitutional doctrine.

But this describes exactly what has happened to us with my insurance company:
In Obergefell v. Hodges, the United States Supreme Court recognized a constitutional right for same-sex couples to marry. Although the decision is an important milestone in the struggle for equality, it also threatens to destabilize the relationships of those who previously entered into civil unions or domestic partnerships and may, for a variety of reasons, prefer not to trade their existing status for marriage. That is because states have routinely responded to the legalization of same-sex marriage by eliminating their non-marital statuses. Some states have terminated such statuses and have required couples to opt into marriage to continue receiving the rights to which they had become accustomed. Other states have converted the non-marital statuses to marriages and have required couples wishing to avoid marriage to dissolve their legal relationships. These actions have made it difficult—and in some cases practically impossible—for couples to choose not to marry.

Now this really ticks me off (I originally typed another word here). I like my plan. I like my doctors. I spent a lot of time researching options when I retired, so I could have the best supplemental plan possible. Now today I’m back at the computer, researching again. (Did I mention that I absolutely hate doing this? I’m actually writing this post to avoid working on it.).

In his book Living in Sin, John Shelby Spong has a section of a chapter devoted to what he calls the “post-married,” that is “mature single people, many of whom are not interested in remarriage ever again, or at least not at this time.” Indeed, I may change my mind someday, but certainly not because the Church or an insurance company tells me to. 

I would add to Spong’s statement that “post-married” applies to those who identify as gay, straight, or non-binary. Regardless of the fact that I’m a straight, cis-gender woman, Spong describes me perfectly. The Fordham article also doesn’t go far enough because it addresses only the status of same-sex domestic partnerships. It is sadly ironic that the right of same-sex couples to marry has engendered problems for those who prefer a civil union or domestic partnership. 

However, it has also created an opportunity for discussion about the Church’s teachings about marriage.

Should the Church Be in the Wedding Business?
I have long believed that the Church is overdue for an overhaul of its thinking about shutterstock_1022015119marriage. The frequently bandied-about statement that “marriage was instituted by God,” in my opinion, is hogwash. If Genesis 2 is the only basis for this, then I want to know who officiated at the wedding of Adam and Eve. 

I have no doubt the marriage was indeed instituted as a way to organize society and provide a social and legal framework in which to work. And maybe it was even divinely inspired. Mosaic Law, which guided the ancient Jewish people, may indeed have been so. But there’s a lot within those laws that are now outdated or otherwise unnecessary. Even if divinely inspired, there is no reason not to revisit teachings about marriage. 

For better or worse, the state is the arbitrator of who can get married and by whom. The license comes from the state, not the Church. Which is why I would prefer to see the Church get out of the marriage business altogether. For those who would like to have a spiritual blessing, then that would be the appropriate role for the Church. It would also remove much of the rigamarole of church weddings for non-church folks. Although many couples today are opting for venues other than churches, enough still want a pretty church, a cooperative clergyperson, and a reasonable (cheap) fee for services. 

The Min Biz
My late landlady proudly informed me when I filled out the application to rent her house that she had been ordained by the Universal Life Church so that she could officiate at weddings. As I left, she said, “We’ll have to get together one of these days to talk about “the min biz.” I sadly thought about my years of study, the student loans, the sweat and tears of parish ministry. I saw on the ULC website that I could get an ordination certificate forblogs-aisle-say-friend-officiating-wedding-ceremony a very reasonable price in the “Minister Store.” Sigh.

Now I know many people who in good conscience want to officiate at a friend or loved one’s wedding. But why not provide for their participation in a civil ceremony or create a lovely ritual for the religious blessing? The “min biz” simply highlights the absurdity of our current system. 

So what now?
I can imagine the blowback for even suggesting that: 

  • marriage was not ordained by God
  • non-married couples can live in committed relationships without endangering their eternal souls 
  • churches would no longer have to be wedding chapels 
  • (gasp) not everyone wants to get married
  • insurance companies should stay out of relationship issues 

But what if we just started to talk about it? What if we did some real biblical study on the origins of the Christian understanding of marriage? What if we took into consideration the realities of life today as opposed to biblical times (i.e. longer life spans, financial considerations, etc.)? Just asking.

The Latest Update
Today my insurance company responded that they want to work with us to see what options are available and would work best for our situation and for the denomination. I’m pretty sure that allowing for our domestic partnership is not going to be best for the denomination. That would be opening up a can of worms that an insurance company doesn’t want to deal with. So it looks like I’m going to be switching my provider – and sadly, my doctor.

Well, OK. So be it. Just because I’m ticked off with my insurance company doesn’t mean I don’t still want to talk about this.

Anybody else want in on the conversation? 





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