Today I went with a couple to buy a marriage license.
This time was a bit different.
They are a homeless couple, soon to be housed.
They are expecting a child.
They are in recovery.
They have known each other many years.
They are lutheran by birth.
They are a lesbian couple.
Life is different when you are a same gender couple expecting a baby.
Let me disclose a little something here.
I am in a same gender relationship. Most of you know this by now. That was one of those human interest pieces that everyone thought was super exciting for awhile. My wife and I have a daughter. Most of you know that too.
Let me tell you about her birth.
Francis was born September of 2012. I was placed on bed rest for the last month due to pre eclampsia that was not presenting normally. Let me remind you what was going on in 2012. There was this movement to make a constitutional amendment in Minnesota stating that marriage was only between a man and a woman. This was a scary time for our growing family.
Eileen and I had a very traditional marriage in a church in 2011. We did a full worship service with the serving of holy communion as our first act as a married couple. This is when we became married. We made public promises to each other in front of our community and in front of God. These promises mattered more than any legislation.
Except that it didn’t.
I got pregnant and then I got sick. Eileen had lost her job and was just getting started in a new and better job. The attorney fees to get advanced directives and the custody paperwork for Eileen cost prohibitive.
We were scrambling to make sure we had all the right notarized documents. Due to my health concerns, we needed to make sure everyone involved in my care understood that Eileen was to make decisions if I was unable to. Frightening and exhausting.
We knew that Eileen would need to legally become Francis’ mom. I found this issue to be very disheartening. Francis was (and is) a deeply wanted child and a child that was only born due to the love of our family. While we were in the hospital after the birth, the notary came through to do the birth certificate. She didn’t know what to do with our situation. Which, was honestly surprising to me. And then, I had to put, “no known father” on the birth certificate. This felt immensely shaming to me.
Due to the financial strain of bed rest and unemployment, we did not file for adoption immediately. This was actually a good thing.
Minnesota reacted to the constitutional amendment on marriage by deciding to legalize same gender marriage.
Eileen and I went up north August of 2013 with our 11 month old in tow. My dad did our legal wedding in the sacred circle on the family farm. Francis was passed back and forth between us as we said our vows.
We are finishing up the step parent adoption now. Yes, step parent adoption. I find that term offensive as Eileen is her parent. There is no Francis without Eileen.
If we have another child, we won’t have to go through all of this mess.
If I get sick, I don’t need to worry about who will legally make my decisions. The state recognizes that Eileen is my wife. I won’t worry that at the birth of a child the state won’t let Eileen make a decision regarding that child’s care. I won’t worry about who can be on the birth certificate.
So, back to this morning’s adventure at public health.
We will be doing a church marriage. But, we will have the support of the state in this process. This family that has done so much hard work to get stable. They are sober, have found housing, successfully completed treatment and want to parent their child.
They teared up when I explained how they will now be protected. They will be able to advocate for one another in medical and legal settings. They are excited and overjoyed to continue supporting one another as they grow in stability and in love.
Personally, my church marriage meant more than my civil marriage. But, I need my civil marriage. I need those protections. I am able to make those protections if I have to, but marriage makes it a lot easier and cheaper.
It is so much more difficult to make those protections when daily life is more chaotic. The stability of marriage is a good thing.
I will get to bless this family with these words:
Most gracious God, we give you thanks for your tender love in sending Jesus Christ to come among us, to be born of a human mother, and to endure the cross for our sake, that we may have abundance of life.
By the power of your Holy Spirit pour out the abundance of your blessing on this couple. Defend them from every enemy. Lead them into all peace. Let your love be a seal upon their hearts, a mantle about their shoulders, and a crown upon their foreheads.
Bless them so that their lives together may bear witness to your love. Bless them in their work and in their companionship; in their sleeping and in their waking; in their joys and in their sorrows; in their life and in their death.
Finally, in your mercy, bring them to that table where your saints feast forever in your heavenly home, through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever, Amen.
We, the gathered community of Christ, will send them out with love and blessing as they begin this journey as a married couple awaiting a child. We will praise God that the civil society has seen fit to share the legal protections with this family and so many others.
So, remember to keep hope alive, for Christ is at work in all the messiness.