Across The Aisle: Marriage Equality And Its Role In Changing The Church

by Gwen Ashby

I have never understood the wedding practice of seating people according to their relationship to one of the betrothed. Maybe this tradition made sense when marriage was purely an economic act: two families, each seated behind their son or daughter, were also entering into a contract. When the intended recited their vows, each side of the church symbolically took vows as well, forever connecting the two heretofore separate families. In this modern era, with long-term engagements and live-in relationships, this seating ritual seems trivial at best.

But this week, in the heady days following the vote for marriage equality in New York, I wonder if there might be something to this arcane tradition.

I recently came across a video from Odyssey Networks, Living with Differences: Two Congregations, Two Viewpoints on Gay Clergy, which profiles two Presbyterian churches in Pittsburgh – East Liberty and Eastminster. While located just blocks apart, East Liberty supported Amendment 10-A, the recent Presbyterian policy change that opened the door to gay ordination, while Eastminster opposed it.  The video’s intent is to open the viewer to the balance the Presbyterian church must now forge between these two sides and to demonstrate the potential these churches have to set aside their differences and work together for their shared community.

What the video raised for me, however, is how ineffective policy change can be in changing people’s hearts.  Policy change is essential – it is what we at Believe Out Loud strive for – but it does not necessarily open minds.

As Ghandi said, “The spirit of democracy is not a mechanical thing to be adjusted by abolition of forms. It requires change of heart.” And what makes us change our hearts? Personal experience. Emotion. Empathy.

When did you first identify your commitment to LGBT equality? What prompted it? Did you have a gay friend, sibling, parent? Did you witness – or experience firsthand – the struggle for affirmation, the struggle to simply BE the person you were born to be, the person God created?

With the legalization of gay marriage, and the legitimization of the LGBT community that comes with it, we are enabling a broad spectrum of society to have that “A-ha” moment – to feel that spark of empathy that prompts a commitment to equality.  The more we provide public witness for the LGBT community, the more we provide opportunity for our shared humanity to supercede our perceived differences.

So in my musings, I imagine the following: East Liberty and Eastminster set aside their differences on gay ordination and work side-by-side at the community Food Bank. While stocking the food bank shelves week after week, East Liberty Bachelor A (let’s call him Tom) and Eastminster Bachelor B (Harry) get to know each other. Tom and Harry fall in love and decide to wed. At their wedding, flanked by their friends from church, East Liberty seated behind Tom and Eastminster seated behind Harry, the couple take their vows, and as they do, these two heretofore separated church families are forever connected through the union of God’s beloved.

May it be so. 

Image Lewishamdreamer