Lisa Kemper, Ministerial Intern
Coypright (c) 2007
I want to begin this morning by sharing something that I do not tell very many people. It may surprise you. I am not really all that jazzed about the idea of same sex marriage. Wait, let me explain: I have witnessed countless couples, both heterosexual and homosexual, some legally married, some religiously committed and some neither, whose relationships are a testimony to human potential. They have vowed in one way or another to support each other and struggle together, and they are the examples I look to when thinking about my own future.
But I do not believe that the "Institution of Marriage" as presented by the religious right is necessarily worth standing up for just as it is. This picture of commitment is only a shadow of what it could be. The platform that includes One Man, One Woman, Family Values and the Moral Majority does not take into account the rich and varied tapestry of what is possible in human relationship. Marriage, in this context, is ill-defined and inaccurately represented in current political rhetoric.
You see, marriage was originally a legal contract, an economic arrangement intended to maximize land holdings and monetary gain. It wasn't until the year 1215 that marriage was declared a sacrament by the Catholic Church. I think that by fighting for marriage we are trying to be included in an institution that is a pale facsimile of something that many people -- gay and straight -- make their life's work, putting their hearts and souls into their commitments every day.
But my opinion of same-sex marriage is not the question on the table today. The question is: Why do I support marriage equality, and further, why should we as a denomination continue to support it?
I am most certainly in favor of marriage equality. I support marriage equality because it is the right thing to do. Regardless of my personal reservations, or the ideal-world scenarios I can and do spin in my quite vivid imagination, there is absolutely no question that we must continue to work to make marriage equality a reality.
I support marriage equality because I didn't realize that not having equal rights mattered, until that right was given to me. I am a lesbian -- and I count myself as a fairly socially aware person -- and I did not realize what it felt like to be a second-class citizen until the burden was lifted. That is how insidious this sort of oppression is. It is easy to ignore and justify it, to pretend that everything is just fine.
I was living outside of Boston in November of 2003 when the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court made its historic ruling regarding Goodridge vs. the Department of Public Health. I had done a valiant job of convincing myself that I did not need legal marriage to affirm the worth or validity of my love for another person. That is, until I heard the actual words of the ruling.
The text of this historic decision states: "The question before us is whether, consistent with the Massachusetts Constitution, the Commonwealth may deny the protections, benefits, and obligations conferred by civil marriage to two individuals of the same sex who wish to marry. We conclude that it may not. The Massachusetts Constitution affirms the dignity and equality of all individuals. It forbids the creation of second-class citizens." I had no awareness of the effect that being denied equal rights had on me until they were given to me. And that is why I stand on the side of love.
Even if you do not have a personal reason to support the fight for marriage equality, it is still the right thing to do. Why should we continue to support Marriage Equality as a denomination? There are countless arguments for and against this issue. But Unitarian Universalists should support marriage equality because it is part of our legacy, because THREE out of SEVEN of our principles tell us to:
With that said, I invite you to consider how you as individuals can join the denomination and engage in this issue. What do laws defining marriage as One Man One Woman mean to each of you? How would legally-sanctioned gay marriage affect your family? How would it affect your family if such an amendment passed in your state and the rights of all non-married couples are drastically limited? How might these possibilities affect the person sitting next to you?
We would all do well to begin to focus on points of connection, on the commonalities of our experience. We need to share stories with each other, to stand together regardless of our demographic location. And I want to say loud and clear, those of you who are straight allies are crucial to this fight. We cannot do it alone.
The bottom line is that gay marriage is about equality, it is about recognizing and celebrating the diversity that is part of our communities. And that is something with which Unitarian Universalists have a great deal of experience.
In 1979, Holly Near wrote the classic tune "We are a Gentle, Angry People" The song has been an anthem of the GLBT rights movement for many years, and it holds a special place in that movement, and in my own heart. It is a song that immediately takes me to a place of quiet determination, a place where women and men stand together holding hands, hoping for the future and raising their voices together. This song is a part of our rich history, but as I think about the gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender rights movement today, I wonder if we need to revise the anthem a bit.
I think that we are becoming less angry than we used to be. As we begin to see change, minds are opening and we find we are accepted in more places and situations. As we find ourselves able to be out in more places, it is easier to feel accepted and live our lives.
However, as far as we have come, there are still wrongs that need to be righted and fights that need to be fought. Marriage equality is one of those fights. And we have to be pragmatic, In the three years since the ruling in Massachusetts, there have been numerous challenges to the Goodridge decision. But that is not the point. The point is that we are only strong if we are visible, and we are only visible if we are loud. Let's stand together and raise the rafters.
If we look back to other seemingly un-winnable causes, we can see that 19th century Unitarian Theodore Parker was right when he said "The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice." I think that as we are finding ourselves able to be less angry, we also need to learn how to be less gentle. We need to speak out and fight the fight. It is time to get out and take action. I am proud to say that many of our congregations are already speaking out and supporting the cause. Our denominational leaders regularly take stands on this important issue.
But just as there is a time for direct and specific social action fueled by righteous anger, we must also have the sustained courage to walk deliberately and speak out against the smaller injustices that contribute to the widespread oppression in our communities.
As we live into the potential of equality, we must turn up the volume as we speak our own varied and individual truths. We must find the courage to speak out when we hear the lady on the subway talking about "those people who are ruining the fabric of society." We must remember that the Most Benevolent Spirit created each and every one of us just as we are.
When the light of God shines through the prism of creation, you can see a rainbow -- the full spectrum of human potential. We are all part of that rainbow, and as Martin Luther King, Jr said, "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. We are caught in an inescapable network of mutuality, tied in a single garment of destiny. Whatever affects one directly, affects us all indirectly."
And so, we stand on the side of love.
There is much work left to be done. Unitarian Universalists draw inspiration from the "words and deeds of prophetic women and men which challenge us to confront powers and structures of evil with justice, compassion and the transforming power of love."
Remember the words of Theodore Parker, remember that arc, bending toward justice, and in those words, let us find the stamina for the long haul. We can stand together and support the causes of justice and equality. Every time you stop yourself from making an assumption about a person's sexual orientation, you are making a difference in the fight for equal rights. Every time you call someone on a homophobic joke, you are making a difference. Every time you speak out, even if it makes you a little bit uncomfortable, you are making a difference.
We are a community, and we are here to help each other find creative ways to raise awareness and educate people. We are here to support each other. The Unitarian Universalist Association is part of the Unitarian Universalist legacy -- abolition, woman suffrage, the list is long -- and as such, we are primed to take a stand for justice.
It is time to make a personal commitment to speak your truth: Stand together knowing that at your back are countless souls who came before, countless souls who spoke out against injustice of every kind. We may be less angry, and we may be less gentle, but we are still singing for our lives. The only way to hear the complex and wonderful harmony is to join our voices, our diverse experiences and stand together with the knowledge that each part is essential to the whole.
And as the struggle for equality stretches on, please remember, we will triumph. The arc of the moral universe bends toward justice, and we are standing on the side of love. Our common faith can sustain us, and when that faith flags, we can be there to remind each other why we began the journey in the first place:
Because separate is not equal
Because hate should not be legislated
And because we are committed to transforming the world through acts of love and justice.
So may it be.
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