I’ve been watching and reading discussions on cohabitation and how it relates to the possibility for individuals’ ministry and their relationship to the church (specifically my faith community, but I know it’s problems in others as well).
At one point in my life, the answer would have been easy. Cohabitation was wrong. Period. No exceptions…no extenuating circumstances…no other perspective.
But as I’ve grown—both chronologically and spiritually—I’m realizing that the answer is NOT easy. And so I find myself living in a gap between my emotional feelings that developed so many years ago and the challenge to try to see through new eyes.
I’ve wondered if our perspective on marriage needs to be re-evaluated to help us look at the challenges cohabitation raises. Yes, it’s been around for a long time—but for many years, marriage was more a passing of “property”…of the woman into the custody of her husband. Even in Christian countries, marriage was not particularly church-related. Again, it was often for the passing of property and the cementing of political alliances—not the commitment of two people who loved each other and who wanted to spend their lives together.
In fact, many times that commitment was simply expressed through a choice to begin living together…perhaps acknowledged by a hand-fasting or some other communal acknowledgment.
While I am in full support of marriage, that has been relatively easy for me. I am a heterosexual female, and so there was no question but that marriage was a probability for me (although I also now realize that was not necessarily a given).
But for many of my LGBTQ+ brothers and sisters, marriage has not been any kind of possibility/probability until fairly recently. While some have chosen to not commit in any way, others have found their own way of making commitments to each other—commitments that are as real as the commitment my husband and I made to each other. Should they not be honored as well? In many ways, we are asking an entire community to make changes in how they relate to the rest of us without our being willing to acknowledge our lack of commitment to them…and an awareness of how that has shaped their community.
There are also challenges for heterosexual couples as well. Because of the way some of our financial systems are set up, marriage for older individuals may mean losing financial security. There are many reasons why both older and younger individuals may choose to forgo marriage, and I would not presume to know them all.
I don’t necessarily agree with some of these choices. But I have known—and continue to know—many couples who are in longterm committed relationships whose commitment to each other is as strong (and sometimes stronger) as the commitments of my married friends.
So while I strongly support marriage, I also don’t think that a “one size fits all” model works either. When we try to force everyone into a single box, we risk missing out on possibilities of ministry—both given and received.
I believe we need to look seriously at how commitment is expressed. In many cases, that may be through marriage. But not always—and I think that to insist that marriage is the only expression of a committed relationship does harm…to the individuals involved, to the church, and to the community.