An esteemed reader of the blog has asked for an opinion of the United Methodist Church’s rejection of homosexual marriage for the son of Methodist pastor Rev. Frank Schaefer of Lebanon, Pennsylvania, who presided at the wedding in 2007. Reverend Schaefer was found guilty of not following the Methodist Discipline (a thick book of rules and procedural statements, including rules for church property), which accepts homosexual individuals but not homosexual “consensual” sex (stupid). Pastor Schaefer was defrocked.
The mariner will not engage in this issue without considering the whole history of marriage and its impact on religious, social and political circumstances. The first issue to examine is the marital relationship between a man and a woman in earlier centuries.
“Chattel marriage refers to a form of marriage in which the husband owned his wife, and any children of their union, in a legal relationship similar to that of slavery. The term refers to the root word ‘cattle’, from which comes ‘chattel’, which refers to personal property as opposed to real property, such as land.”
Most European noblewomen were party to chattel marriages, although if they brought money or property with them to the marriage, there usually were contracts involved, and “dower rights” were preserved to the wives. While the Roman Catholic Church may or may not have been involved in these “noble” marriages, it stands to reason that matters of money were not subject to Scriptural interpretation.
Marriage in pre-Christian times always considered a woman chattel. Harems and concubines were common and acceptable and “philandering” was common – by both sexes.
Historical references do not discuss the sexual legalities of common people in the Christian era. The mariner suspects it did not matter to the Christian church, the couple being irrelevant to doctrinal priorities. Perhaps a local vicar performed marriages without much ecclesiastical oversight. Likely these marriages are typical of today’s common marriages, also irrelevant to today’s ecclesiastical doctrine unless the homosexual issue arises.
To make a long, long dissertation on marriage short, marriage boils down to convenience. That marriage is a convenience goes back to the early Egyptian era. What the mariner extracts from history is just that: convenience. He feels this is a pragmatic approach to the many ramifications of people that are united in all things. In the case of Reverend Schaefer, the pastor is a victim of transition. Today’s secular culture has begun to acknowledge the situation where homosexual unions need legal recognition. In the mariner’s mind, religiosity has nothing to do with this transition. It is all about convenience in the context of society. Even the Blessed United Methodist Church has mixed feelings about homosexual marriages.
Now to the legality of homosexual marriage in the United States. As a secular concept, homosexual marriage complies with history – it is convenient. However, there are tax and property issues not dealt with by State and Federal law that, by specific definition, never considered the situation of homosexual marriage. This omission is because of religious standards set by strident movements of the Reformation. The framing of the US Constitution and the Bill of Rights more or less coincided with religious authority in the eighteenth century. Laws must be modified to acknowledge the convenience of two homosexuals who desire to be married. This is happening at this moment. The legal issue is related to the Constitution rather than to a specific religion.
Homosexual marriage would not be an issue except for those individuals or organizations who remain in the sixteenth century practicing chattel marriage – a marriage that required a man and a woman. Those individuals may be glad not to have lived during the age of Roman emperors when pedophilia and homosexuality were acceptable.
The mariner has opined many times that we live in a tumultuous era of cultural shift that will not pass until late in the century. The issue of homosexual marriage is just one confrontation to be resolved along the way. He thinks the conflict eventually will give way to the historical norm: what does the society consider convenient? Obviously, it is more convenient to rewrite a few phrases of tax law than to turn back the pages of religious history.
As to the United Methodist Church, I question their intent based on Mark 12:33: “To love him [God] with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.” Homosexual marriage surely is included in that mandate.