Liturgical options when same sex marriage arrives

I’ve heard that a colleague in Massachusetts has wondered what kind of ceremony is proper (or indeed, necessary) for a couple married in that church, but outside the benefit of law, once marriage licences are issued same-sex couples.

Golly: I wish I had that problem, but even though I don’t, might I offer an opinion?

There needs to be a ceremony, however simple, so that the couple may contract marriage in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Until May 17, no same-sex couple, however devoted or ommitted, has had the opportunity to contract marage this way, and so in a real sense any prior service was different.

So what kind of service? The closest parallel we have is the blessing of a civil marriage, which is the same action in reverse. To review: the couple would have been married by law, and come to the church as married couple. The minister has the sole role of ecclesiastic agent: to bless, to lead prayers, and often times to lead the couple to exchange rings.

With the coming wave of previously-blessed same-sex marriages the minister serves as an agent of the court. (Indeed, from the couple’s point of view, there’s no particular reasons to return to church. The court clerk could officiate, but who are we kidding? You go to church to get married, right? Don’t bother correcting me in the comments.)

This suggests the service should be as business-like: perhaps in the pastor’s office, church parlor, or alternately, drawing from custom and if it was convenient, in the couple’s home or the pastor’s home
(really) with the following outline.

  • “Dearly beloved, on September 30, 1770, James Murray and Ted Potter vowed before their friends and a congregation of the First Church in Thule to be of one spirt and one flesh, to have and to hold one another from that day foward, and and meet today to be wed under the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. . . . ” In short, make public an account of what the couple has previously done, and I’d be sure to quote the actual vows they made.
  • Ask each member of the couple if he or she consents to be married to the other under the law of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. Sure this is a conditional statement, but since it was a condition that didn’t hitherto exist, it seems right. On reflection, I might phrase this to say “extend your marriage under the law . . . ” Again, I wish I was in a position to have to wrestle with this!
  • Then, a simple, mutual “I take you [name] as my [husband or wife]” leaving out all the other conditions, seeing as they were vowed at the first service.
  • The minister declares them married.
  • Optionally, a prayer of thanksgiving, a blessing or both ends the
    service.

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