Marriages and Civil Unions

Print More

(Host) In light of the recent California court decisions concerning same-sex marriage, commentator Edith Hunter has been reflecting on her experience as a Justice of the Peace.

(Hunter) I have been a Justice of the Peace, or JP, for 17 years and plan to retire at the end of this term. One of the optional duties of a JP is officiating at marriages.

I had not chosen to do so until the passage of the civil union law in 2000. At that time I told our town clerk that I would be willing to “do” civil unions because I was afraid some JPs would chose not to do them. She said that if I did civil unions I also had to perform marriages and so I agreed to officiate at both.

Since then I have presided over 15 marriages and two civil unions. The first couple I married had been living together for 20 years. Early in their relationship they had a service in which they married one another in the presence of family and friends, but, believing that the state should not be involved, had never gotten a license. Now, with two grown children and with some pressure from a parent, they had gotten a license. They had wanted a civil union but the town clerk said that according to the law civil unions were only for same-sex couples.

Most of the couples had no church affiliation. An exception was the first civil union at which I officiated in which both men were practicing Catholics. They intended to continue to practice their faith, but without the blessing of their church on their relationship.

Although my “sampling” is small, I would make a few generalizations. Most were former Catholics; others had no church affiliation and no interest in organized religion. Even so, some want their weddings to take place in a church. The majority have been living together for years and many have children from this or from previous relationships.

One couple had lived together for 15 years but now wanted a child and decided to get married. I was surprised and delighted a year later to receive a photo, on my computer, of their beautiful year old daughter.

Two couples met on the internet – one a pair of senior citizens, and the other couple quite young, but already with a child from another relationship.

Traditional marriage does not seem to me to be threatened by civil union legislation. It is already on shaky ground. It is surprising to me that conservatives who favor traditional marriage, many of whom themselves are divorced, oppose giving legal recognition to the union of same sex couples. One would think that the stability that may result from legalizing such relationships would be welcomed by conservatives.

In one of the services developed by the bride and me we included these words about marriage: “The outward ceremony is but a symbol of that which is inner and real; a union of hearts which the church may bless and the state make legal, but which neither church nor state can create.”

This is Edith Hunter on the Center Road.

Writer and historian Edith Hunter lives in Weathersfield Center. She spoke from our studio in Norwich.

Comments are closed.