Somehow I wound up in a relationship with another queer Lutheran seminarian. It wasn’t part of either of our plans to fall in love. Seminary was pretty much the last place I expected to find another queer person to date. Plus we had both heard stories from straight couples about how much more difficult the candidacy process made significant relationships.
We were already more than half-way through seminary when we began dating. We couldn’t live together if we weren’t married. And when it came time for my internship, because we weren’t married, I had to hope for a placement that was within a 6 hour drive. If she was going to stay with me over the summer, we would need to be married. And if we were going to go through the Assignment Process together, we would need to be married.
When it came time for filling out our forms, these were our options:
- In a publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same sex relationship
- Formerly in a publicly accountable lifelong monogamous same sex relationship
We loved each other. We didn’t want to break up. So we wound up getting engaged about a year after we started dating. For some folks, a year might have been plenty long to date before getting married. It wasn’t for us.
Ultimately we broke up early in our engagement and never got married. My heart was broken, but now I recognize how fortunate I was, how fortunate we both were. It would have been a bad marriage. But we both took marriage very seriously so we would have tried. I would have given it all I had. We probably would have stayed together for several years. We likely would have had kids. There would have been years of couples therapy. I would have lived for years in desperation, resentment, loneliness, and exhaustion—trying to make a relationship work that really wasn’t good for either of us.
Our story isn’t a unique one. I’ve seen it happen to a number of other couples. The ELCA candidacy process is a pressure-cooker for relationships. It’s not healthy. It causes people to get engaged and married before they have any business doing so. Many couples have to choose between either breaking up or getting married simply in order to stay together. And it doesn’t have to be that way.
The only forms of relationship that we acknowledge are either married or single. That’s not actually how healthy relationships work. Healthy relationships take time to develop. Healthy romantic relationships are holy in and of themselves. They are something to be celebrated and cherished and nurtured. Not rushed along for the sake of appearances. Marriage doesn’t actually make a relationship any holier or healthier than it was before.
The foundation of a healthy marriage is not laid down on the wedding day. It’s developed in a healthy dating relationship. And healthy dating relationships need time to develop at their own pace.
It’s time that the church look itself in the mirror and acknowledge: a very large percentage of our denomination’s members, clergy, and candidates have sexual relationships before marriage. And many of these relationships are healthy, holy, and whole. This is nothing new. It has been the case for many years now. But we’ve all been too ashamed of our own sexuality to admit it.
I am a human made in God’s image. Created with the glorious capacity to give and receive pleasure. A capacity to love and be loved. A capacity to discern together with my partner what sort of legal commitments are right for us. My current sexual relationship is holy and whole right now without marriage. I will not be ashamed.