In his new book, God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage, Bishop Gene Robinson wonders if same-gender marriage changes the definition of marriage at all. His assessment is based on his own experience of counseling both same-gender and opposite-gender couples in preparation for marriage. He discovered that all couples bring similar struggles and questions to premarital counseling.

An excerpt from God Believes in Love: Straight Talk About Gay Marriage:

No Episcopal priest is allowed to solemnize and bless a marriage unless premarital counseling has been done by the officiant or another priest of the church. It is a statement about the seriousness with which the Church goes about marriage.

Each priest decides what the nature and content of that marriage preparation will be. At the end of the first session, where I ask the couple to tell me the story of their meeting, falling in love, and then wanting to make the commitment of marriage to each other, I give them a survey of questions about all aspects of their relationship. They are asked not to answer the questions but to indicate that (a) this is something we are in agreement about, (b) this is something we are in some disagreement about, or (c) this is not something we’ve really discussed.

What is most revealing about this questionnaire is the way it uncovers different levels of trust, commitment and understanding between the two. One partner is convinced that a particular topic has been fully discussed and agreed upon, while the other is not at all sure. At least some gaps in communication are readily revealed. These gaps give me the opportunity to invite better communication between the two parties. Sometimes the presence of a third — and trustworthy — person gives one of the partners the courage to bring up a disparity that is too frightening to risk raising, now that the wedding invitations have been sent out.

Not a single issue raised in these several sessions of premarital counseling is specific to or exclusively relevant to opposite-gender marriage. Which has led me to wonder if same-gender marriage changes the definition of marriage at all!

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You are not alone in wondering if we aren’t tampering with a time-honored, hallowed tradition and practice. It feels a little like defying the gods! But I know it’s not unusual for people to think that what they have experienced in their own lives is the way it has always been. The facts about the history and evolution of marriage show that that is not the case.

Some people would have you believe that marriage began with Adam and Eve. But in the account in Genesis where Adam and Eve become one flesh (presumably through their mutual commitment and sexual intimacy), there is no mention of an “institution” of marriage nor any liturgy, vows, promises or other ritual used to solemnize their relationship. This prehistorical account can only serve as a backdrop to the meaning (not the “institution”) of marriage that developed over time.

The full excerpt is available at Salon.

More information about God Believes in Love can be found at Alfred A. Knopf.

Watch CNN Interview with Bishop Gene Robinson

Bishop Gene Robinson talks with CNN’s Ashleigh Banfield.

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