By Thomas Ehnert
Ten years ago, I was a closeted minister in an ultra-conservative church. I remember what it felt like to officiate at weddings. I saw the beaming faces of the bride and groom at the altar. We’d always hear Paul’s words in the New Testament describing marriage as a “profound mystery.” Officiating at weddings, I could just sense that I was participating in a profound mystery.
It was also, however, profoundly sad. I never thought it would be possible for me as a closeted gay man to know that happiness. I never thought we as GLBT people would experience that joy either, at least not in a legally recognized way.
Ten years later, I’m not only out of the closet (and ministry), but I’m writing an article for the marriage edition of Lavender! When I think about marriage, I immediately think back on my experience marrying people. In the denomination I had been attached to, it was common to read about Adam and Eve at weddings. The story goes that, after God formed Adam from the ground, God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.” So God took a rib out of Adam, and from this rib God formed Eve. The story concludes, “For this reason, a man will leave his father and mother, and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.” (This is the source of that snide fundamentalist saying, “God made Adam and Eve, not Adam and Steve.”)
When I preached about this story ten years ago, I remember honing in on the phrase, a “helper suitable.”
Adam and Eve would be suitable helpers for one another emotionally. When one sorrowed, the other would be sad. When one rejoiced, the other would be happy. When one was struggling, the other could uplift. When one needed to talk, the other could listen.
What part of that would not be true for “Adam and Steve”? Or “Eva and Eve”?
Adam and Eve would also be helpers suitable for each other spiritually. They both had a side of them that transcended the physical. In one another, they found love, joy, peace, goodness, and companionship.
What part of that would not be true for “Eva and Eve” or “Adam and Steve”?
Thirdly, they would be helpers suitable for one another physically. They could express their spiritual and emotional bond in a physical way, becoming one flesh.
What part of that would not be true for “Adam and Steve” or “Eva and Eve”?
Some say that on the basis of this passage from Genesis, a man must be married to his wife. A male and a female. An Adam and an Eve. But in seminary, we distinguished between passages that command something and passages that describe an event. If this passage were one that commands something, it would be wrong for any single person to remain unmarried. So this passage merely describes marriage, as it is existed in ancient Israel.
Remove the heteronormative assumption about the Adam and Eve legend, and you have a story that could be lovely to read at any wedding. People of whatever gender identification find someone with whom they are compatible emotionally, spiritually, and physically. They become one in a relationship. There certainly was neither religious institution to bless nor government entity to recognize the joining of Adam and Eve together in the legends of Genesis. God, fate, the universe, or life simply joined them together.
The person with whom we GLBT people would be emotionally, spiritually, and physically compatible are people of our own gender. Some of us, myself included, actually tried being compatible with a spouse of the opposite gender. It didn’t work. That’s just not how God, fate, the universe, biology, or life made us. State laws are finally recognizing this aspect of natural law.
To illustrate, a gay friend of mine is mourning the recent passing of his spouse. There was no difference between how my mom retired to care for my dad, and how my friend was going to retire to care for his spouse. There is no difference between my mom’s grief when my dad died and my friend’s grief when his husband died. Both couples were “helpers suitable” to one another, to use the language of the Genesis legend again. When the two become one, it is the same sense of loss when the one becomes two again. It is the same love.
This is indeed a profound mystery – the mystery of union between humans and humans.
I’ll be honest. Ten years ago it wasn’t so beautiful. It was lovely to preach about, looking at all those straight couples coming to get married. I envied them. I thought that kind of union was for straight people only, not for an Adam like me who needed a Steve. If it wasn’t good for Adam to be alone, why would it be good for us GLBT people to be alone? I am free, we GLBT people are free, to experience for ourselves that profound mystery of union – union with a person who truly is our emotional, spiritual, and physical companion. That I have come so far personally in my self-understanding, that we as a society have come so far in our collective understanding, is itself a profound mystery.