I no longer recognize marriage. It's a new thing I'm trying.
Turns out it's fun.
Yesterday I called a woman's spouse her boyfriend.
She says, correcting me, "He's my husband,"
"Oh," I say, "I no longer recognize marriage."
The impact is obvious. I tried it on a man who has been in a relationship for years,
"How's your longtime companion, Jill?"
"She's my wife!"
"Yeah, well, my beliefs don't recognize marriage."
Fun. And instant, eyebrow-raising recognition. Suddenly the majority gets to feel what the minority feels. In a moment they feel what it's like to have their relationship downgraded, and to have a much taken-for-granted right called into question because of another's beliefs.
Just replace the words husband, wife, spouse, or fiancé with boyfriend, girlfriend, special friend, or longtime companion. There is a reason we needed stronger words for more serious relationships. We know it; now they can see it.
A marriage is a lot of things. Culturally, it's a declaration to the community that two people are now a unit, and that unity should be respected. Legally, it's a set of rights and responsibilities. And spiritually, it's whatever your beliefs think it is.
That's what's so great about America. As a constitutionally secular nation, or at least in reality a vaguely pluralistic nation, we can all have our own spiritual take on what marriage is. What's troublesome is when one group's spiritual beliefs deny the cultural and legal rights of another.
But, back to the point. They say their beliefs don't recognize my marriage, I say my beliefs don't recognize theirs. Simple. It may seem petty, and obviously the legal part of the cultural/legal/spiritual trilogy is flip-floppy, but it may be the cultural part that really matters.
People get married to be recognized as a permanent couple. To be acknowledged by friends, family, and strangers as being off the market, in a relationship, totally hooked up, yikes... it's impossible to say without saying 'married.' We wear rings to declare this!
So, we can take this away. We can refuse to recognize marriage in the cultural sense. It is totally within our rights, as Americans, to follow our beliefs and recognize or not recognize what we like.
I guess this is a call out to all Americans with beliefs similar to mine.
If you believe that all people should have equal rights, and if you believe that marriage is one of the greatest destinations of a relationship, then perhaps you believe that nobody should have marriage, until everybody does.
That's what I believe.
This blog post first appeared on Religion Dispatches' blog, The Devil's Advocate. Religion Dispatches is a new online magazine that analyzes and reports on religion and public life from a secular perspective. This particular post was written by Tom Ackerman.