One young person’s subversive thoughts on church and society
Single but not lonely
The recent Supreme Court decision in favor of same-gender marriage had one serious flaw: it indirectly promoted the myth that you can’t have a fulfilling life without being married.
by Tad Hopp
The Supreme Court has finally ruled that same-gender marriage is legal nationwide. They’ve removed all the state statutes declaring that marriage is only between a man and a woman. This was a huge victory in the GLBTQ community’s quest for civil rights. As a queer person, it makes me so happy to know that if I ever do want to get married, I can now do so in my home state and town. I almost wept tears of joy when that revelation came to me.
I know so many couples, both gay and straight, who affirm and support this decision. Couples whose marriages will now be legal nationwide. Couples who have been patiently waiting decades to be able to get legally married and have their marriage recognized by their home state. These couples are celebrating this decision, as they should be. I’m celebrating right along with them and can’t wait to see the wedding announcements, photos, and videos of their ceremonies.
The Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.) affirms that marriage is a valuable and important institution for our lives together as Christians. We even have an entire section devoted to the subject in the Book of Common Worship. “God gave us marriage for the well-being of human society, for the ordering of family life, and for the birth and nurture of children,” it says. However, Presbyterians do not believe that marriage is a sacrament. We do not believe that all are called to be married, and we do not believe that all should get married if they don’t want to. After all, Jesus never married, and even the apostle Paul lifts up singleness as the preferred option.
So, I want to make it very clear that I completely support and affirm the Supreme Court’s decision as the right one. Marriage is a legal right that should be open to all consenting adults, not a privilege that is left to a few. All who want to get married should be able to. And of course, there are Presbyterians whose understanding of Scripture and the will of God prohibit them from performing same-gender marriage ceremonies, and neither the PC(USA) nor the Supreme Court decision requires them to. They have that right too.
Now, let me also make it clear that while I understand why marriage equality advocates had to fight for marriage in the way they did, I am finding myself a bit hurt by the wording of the Supreme Court’s decision. You see, as a 30-something queer man who has yet to meet the love of my life and is still very, very single, I’m frustrated by the privilege we afford married couples in our society. The Supreme Court’s decision only makes that privilege and importance even more evident. In the final paragraph of their decision, the Supreme Court makes the following statement: “No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. . . . Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness.”
‘My story continues on with or without a partner. My story is full of life and joy.’
There’s something really hurtful about that line. I’m single but I don’t feel the least bit lonely. My life is very full. Full of friends and family and coworkers and so many others who bring me joy and contentment. Plenty of single people would say the same thing. We aren’t lonely. We aren’t going to die alone. We aren’t just sitting at home twiddling our thumbs waiting for Mr. or Ms. Right to come knocking on our door and marry us. We are out there, living life to its fullest—traveling, dancing, volunteering. We are active in our communities and our churches. We give back to our world. We have the freedom to travel and move as we see fit. We actually have more flexibility in those respects than our married counterparts do.
The Supreme Court’s decision holds up marriage as the most valuable institution in our society. It indirectly promotes the myth that you can’t live a fulfilling life if you aren’t married (rather than the rightful claim that if two people love and are committed to each other but cannot marry, they are denied the most fulfilling life possible). It promotes the stigma that married people have more value, more worth, and more importance in our society than single people.
We do this in our churches and in society all the time. We focus our attention on families and married couples, and the single adults we either forget about or try to set up with someone so they won’t be single anymore. For the record, I enjoy being single. I’m used to it. It works for me. I don’t feel like being single makes me any less adequate as a person. Someday, I may meet the man of my dreams and no longer be single. While I do hold out hope of that happening someday, I’m also realistic and practical and have accepted the fact that that may never be my narrative.
My story continues on with or without a partner. My story is full of life and joy.
For many people, the Supreme Court ruling allows them to live fully into their joy, which includes a partner. I don’t want to rain on that parade. I do want to make sure, though, that we don’t continue to privilege marriage as the ultimate goal for everyone in life. Singleness can be a choice (a biblical choice, in fact) that should be affirmed and celebrated just as much as the choice to get married is. Singleness can also be the result of circumstances you don’t know or understand. God calls us all to different paths in life. Some of us are called to get married and have lots of kids. Some of us aren’t called to that at all. The trouble is that our society only accepts one of those two options and completely ignores the other one as a valid decision.
So yes, let’s celebrate the fact that same gender marriage is now a reality in all 50 states. Let’s affirm the Supreme Court’s decision as the right one. Let’s have gay weddings and gay receptions and gay honeymoons and all that! However, let us not forget that marriage isn’t the only acceptable life path out there. Let’s not forget that some of our single brothers and sisters might feel pained by the Supreme Court’s wording of the decision. Let’s remember to reach out to them and affirm that they are perfect just the way they are and that we support them in their time of singleness. Let’s remember to be gracious with them just as they are gracious with us.
Tad Hopp graduated in May 2015 from San Francisco Theological Seminary with a Master of Divinity. He enjoys a good movie, singing karaoke, and anything involving the arts (theater, ballet, opera), and is a self-proclaimed Star Wars, Lord of the Rings, and Harry Potter nerd! He served as a Young Adult Volunteer in Chicago (2010–2011) working with the homeless queer population. He is a lifelong Presbyterian, an ordained ruling elder and deacon, and currently a candidate for ordination.