Commentary: 'Sanctity of marriage' goes beyond gender

Over the last several years, the phrase "the sanctity of marriage" has been used as part of an artillery of weaponry to battle equality and keep gays and lesbians from getting married.

Since June, with the exception of a couple of random shots fired, the battlefield in California has been essentially evacuated with the declaration of the U.S. Supreme Court that the federal Defense of Marriage Act is dead, and that here the lower court's ruling will stand and Proposition 8 is dead and gone as well. So it's been a while since I have heard those bristling words.

Except that, of late, it has been exactly that phrase that keeps surfacing in my mind. I have had the opportunity to witness what the "sanctity of marriage" truly means.

Over the last week, I've performed three same-gender weddings. Each of those couples understands the weight of those words because each waited for decades to finally sanctify their relationship and marry their life partners. There are 102 years between the three couples!

Last Saturday, I married a couple who have been together 34 years. On Friday, I married a couple who traveled here from Tennessee who have been together 13 years and journeyed a great distance to legalize their love. And on Halloween, I had the deepest blessing and incredible honor to marry a couple on their 55th anniversary.

I'd say they know a little something about the sanctity of marriage.

I've come to realize that I need to alter my premarital counseling sessions. Instead of preparing couples for marriage, I'm asking them to share what marriage is really all about. Truly, they understand deep commitment.

They know what it's like to weather the years together, and even as they have spent their relationships unwed in the eyes of the government, they have known what marriage really means and lived it out in their day-to-day lives, vows made in the silence of their eyes, in the privacy of their homes, in the depths of their hearts.

Thus, the vows they make on their wedding day seem all the more weighty: a culmination of daily vows piled high and grounded deep. It's all I can do to keep myself from becoming a weepy mess, a witness to such momentous professions of love.

I can only pray to know this type of love, to profess this deep commitment, to experience such a sacred relationship — to uphold the sanctity of marriage the way each of these couples have done with such integrity. Now as they enter into legal marriage, as they have stood before their family and friends, as they have received the blessing from the God who knows and loves them, they become models for marriage.

THE REV. SARAH HALVERSON is the pastor of Fairview Community Church in Costa Mesa.

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