Guest Blogger

Building Relationships before Rights

Filed By Guest Blogger | December 11, 2008 10:30 AM | comments

Filed in: Living, Marriage Equality, The Movement
Tags: gay marriage, lesbian, LGBT, marriage, presbyterian

Editors' note: Rev. Rick Elliott has been a minister since June 1973 and has frequently handled the overflow of weddings from a university chapel. He's a Phi Beta Kappa graduate of University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, has received an M/Div from Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and did five-sixths of a D.Min at Perkins School of Divinity (SMU). Rick's first book, Faith Journeys of the Heart, will be published by Tate Publishing in February 2009.

t3.jpgLet me throw a spanner in the LGBT marriage rights discussions. As a Presbyterian minister and veteran of at least one hundred weddings, I've seen marriages along the spectrum of stages from inception to dissolving, until death. More basic than a right to marry is the willingness and ability to sustain a relationship in the first place. I have seen attempted shot-gun marriages--which I, as a matter of principle, won't automatically agree to do. I've seen couples decide not to marry based on the pre-marital work I've given them to do. In truth, I've probably seen about every category and situation, if not all of them.

What I have to say goes for straight and LGBT marriages. Each needs to give, at least, some good chance of becoming a relationship that ends only when one of the two die. I don't buy into the Roman notion of marriage as a sacrament, but I do see it as about the most serious commitment--on the part of both--to build a place where the two may be made one.

LGBT folk--and straight folk--need to earn the right to marry by evidence of the work they agree to undertake committing to and making a marriage. Without that foundation no one really has a right to marry. It seems the furor over the right to marry has the cart before the horse.

I am working on a manual for premarital counseling that involves doing the spade work for stress points a couple will encounter as they become and one flesh and remain so. Issues dealt with include some of the following:

  1. fighting styles,
  2. what style of relationship the couple chooses,
  3. spending styles and incurring debt.
  4. roles of outsiders--family and friends--have over a relationship, along with the ability to tell others what influence others do not have.
  5. self-assessments of strengths, weaknesses and where each will need "completing,"
  6. and many more, including what behaviors will end the relationship.

Those with marriage certificates--hot off the presses--in California, and New England---I'm willing to share these 20 or so stress points with you. I ask you to make preliminary decisions about how you will deal with each stress point--enough so that you have a thorough understanding of what's involved.

My theory is that we don't have an unlimited supply of emotional energy and folks spend far too much of it describing what the problem is--then there's not enough emotional energy left to work the stress point through. With this training I hope a couple could get down to the problem because they've worked through the background before.

I ask each couple to make a log of their preliminary decisions and agree to consider their decisions again at major changing points. (like having children, getting laid off, retiring, change of career, serious illness, etc.)

I also attempt to get couples to plan something special for your each other at least once a quarter. Each will become more in tune with the other searching for just the right occasion. It most certainly doesn't need to be something expensive. I've found that some of the small things are remembered longer.

I hope I can help folks earn, not just the legal right to marry, but also--more important--have done the work that is necessary for giving a marriage a good head start. In my book that is really earning the right to marry.


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While I agree with the points about relationships, the way this was framed sounded like "you cannot have your parity of civil rights until you meet the higher standard"

Been there, done that........

Useful and lovely advice about relationships, but I had to take a deep breath and use my will to finish reading the post. The author lost me at:

"LGBT folk--and straight folk--need to earn the right to marry by evidence of the work they agree to undertake committing to and making a marriage .... It seems the furor over the right to marry has the cart before the horse."

Say what! The idea that someone else's religious frame should determine my civil right to marriage is whats wrong here. Rev. Elliot should be completely free to set standards for the couples whose marriages he performs. Let them earn the right to be married by him if they choose.

Does Rev. Elliot really believe we are in need of such condescending advice? I find it not just disappointing from an ally (?), its insulting! It leaves me with the impression that he believes we don't have the wherewithal to sustain committed relationships and therefore our human and civil rights are of lesser importance.

I am not Christian, but I have managed to be in a successful lesbian partnership for 18 years. In our continuing (and exhausting) efforts to be legally married we have no interest in ever "becoming of one flesh" but we sure as heck would like to not be paying 8-10 grand in punitive income taxes every year, would love to be able to enjoy shared pension, social security, and health benefits, and have all the other legal protections that marriage bestows, especially and most importantly the right to secure, state recognized kinship with each other, our daughter, and grandchildren.

Civil marriage rights have nothing to do with religious sacrament, rite, or public witness of marriage.

I am all for premarital interviews and counseling or courses for those wanting to marry in a particular church. The church has the right to require that the prospective couple be taught the denomination's theology and philosophy of marriage, and that the couple reflect on and discuss points in a checklist (congruent values and goals in life? congruent desire or lack of desire for children? interest in raising the children in the religion? attitudes about money and about work? compromise by meeting in the middle or by alternating? ...). The church has that right to regulate its own voluntary community as it sees fit.

Would all couples benefit from talking about a checklist of topics before civil marriage? Yes, but the state has no business making this requirement.