Sally Hamlin, Ministerial Intern
Copyright (c) 2007
Today is the first Sunday in the season of Lent. The Call to Worship today is from the book of Luke, the selected text in the Common Lectionary for the Christian church.
In this reading, we see Jesus, during his forty-days in the wilderness, preparing for his ministry, facing temptation by the devil. Jesus counters the devil’s challenges and taunts with steadfast centeredness and self-knowledge of who he is and what he believes. The devil’s promise of the power and privilege does not sway Jesus. Jesus rejects illusion and self-deception. His surety turns the devil away. Jesus completes his desert retreat, and travels on to Jerusalem where he is greeted by crowds who lay palm fronds in his path to honor his ministry.
It is with this story of temptation, the theme of the seduction of power and its privilege, that I introduce marriage equality as my sermon topic today. It could be you feel stretched to consider any connection between the two topics- that of Jesus’ temptation by the devil and the subject of marriage equality, but I assure you, there is one.
The subject of marriage, and marriage equality for same gender individuals carries us into some of the most intimate, and possibly tender, places that exist for us, that of sexual attraction and sexual expression. It is a topic filled with emotional landmines and carries with it layers of history, both personal and cultural. It can evoke memories of deep hurts, rejection or ostracization by those charged with the care of our core being: our families of origin and our faith communities.
And finally, it touches all three of those subjects one is to never bring up in polite society, much less a pulpit: Religion, Sex and Politics.
Marriage equality is the ultimate trifecta of prohibited topics!
But if we listen to what Frederick Buechner says, telling our secrets binds us not only to one another but also to that which we cannot see, that which lies just beyond our consciousness. He says “it is by entering that deep place inside us where our secrets are kept that we come perhaps closer than we do anywhere to the One. . . who is the most precious”.
Marriage, as an institution, has had a varied history. It has been almost continuously part of the west’s economic reality since its inception, but this association has been diminished “since the introduction of capitalism, when marriage stopped being the way the rich exchanged their life property” according to the author of What is Marriage For?, E.J. Graff.
Yet marriage equality has an almost permanent place in both local and national news. The Commonwealth of Massachusetts is prominent in this discussion, being the only state to have legalized marriage, not civil union, between same sex couples.
Yet, the decision, even once made, is dragged up for review over and over again. This time we find “the legislature has to vote on marriage equality again this year, probably in the fall, this time in the form of a proposal for a constitutional amendment which would define marriage as only of that of a man to a woman. Then in 2008 it would go to the ballot.”, according to Keith Kron, Director of the UUAs Office of BGLT Concerns.
Statistically speaking, most of us have a family member, or another loved one, for whom the subject of marriage equality directly impacts their life. It may even be our own life which is affected. But not talking about marriage equality with one another keeps it hidden; it remains a secret. We “run the risk of losing track of who we truly and fully are”, Buechner says, with our silence.
A few years ago in April, I officiated at a wedding that left me filled with a deep sense of hope about life. The ceremony took place in a Knights of Columbus hall in a small farming town in upstate New York, XXXXtown is also the home of a minimum-security state prison, the community’s largest employer.
The focus of the ceremony was a sweet couple, one dressed in the expected black tux and the other in white from head to toe. Their deep affection for one another was evident that day, as was the love of their numerous friends and family who filled the hall. Farmers were there in starched white shirts with suspenders, wearing newly shined, uncomfortable looking shoes. They sat beside tattooed biker women dressed in their finest. Little girls in frills and lace danced about and clapped along to the music that filled the room, which was decorated on either end with photos, one of the pope and one of the bishop. Tables were laden with beautiful silver and china, and the music of Hayden accompanied the couple up and down the aisle. There were four female attendants and four groomsmen, lovely and handsome, part of a wedding party that included an African American couple.
The guests reflected a loving, diverse circle of support. I was honored to be part of this event for more reasons than one, but in my mind, I had held a stereotyped image of what I would find in rural XXXXtown that day. However, my beliefs, my preconceptions of this rural community, did not hold up to the truth of what I found there.
This coming July, I will officiate at another wedding. This time, I will be marrying my daughter RXXX to her fiancé DXXX, at our home congregation, the UU church in XXXX. BXXX and DXXX have been engaged for over a year and are truly committed to one another. The care and devotion they have shows in all aspects of their life. They respect and honor one another, and the joy they feel is evident to all who are in their company. EXXX, my other daughter, will be her sister’s maid of honor.
Now comes the complicated part.
This is the story of my family: DXXX and BXXX, as a heterosexual couple, can marry legally in New York. EXXX my other daughter, cannot be married legally in New York, because she is a lesbian. Their father, my ex-husband, had a commitment ceremony in 1995, to another man. He is gay; I am bisexual. This is our family.
I believe I am not the only one in this sanctuary today who lives with a level of complexity associated with the issue of sexual identity and marriage equality. I cannot believe we are all that different from many of you.
Yet, we have a tendency to see the work of marriage equality as not as important as that of world hunger or of urban violence, our crumbling educational systems, or the war with Iraq. We have a natural tendency to stratify, or qualify, the complex issues that define our culture. But I would argue that it is the same sets of beliefs and assumptions that allow us to perpetrate marriage discrimination based upon gender as that which determine who gets health care, or which neighborhoods have good schools or whether we decide to end the transmission of HIV or world hunger.
For good or for bad, we are all part of the interconnected web of all existence. And as the song goes, none of us are free unless all of us are free. But we take steps towards freedom when we tell the truth of our lives, taking our family secrets out of the closet, so to speak.
I tell you this about my family, not to ‘overshare’, (and I asked and received EXXX’s permission to share her identity today) but to help you see magnitude of the power of our society’s message of shame when it comes to being “out” with your sexual orientation. Despite a very open and accepting family environment, EXXX struggled for a long time to reveal her identity.
So, despite the progress that Massachusetts has made on this topic, we still have a long way to go as a society. As Unitarian Universalists we can provide leadership in this area. We must not stop discussing marriage, in our pulpits, at work, in our homes or with our legislators. In other words, we must continue to tell our secrets.
We can get lost in resisting the religious right’s refrain over what they believe the bible says about same gender sexual expression, such as that found in Leviticus: “Thou shalt not lie with a man as with a woman; it is an abomination.” – and to that, my lesbian daughter says “No problem!”- , or we can choose to work the middle and make some true progress on the issue. We can find our authentic voice, and use it to stop the lies told about who we are.
We can let the state representatives know that we don't want a vote, that as voters we should not have a vote on discrimination. We can talk with friends and neighbors about equal marriage and how we support it. Some congregations have even put out a banner supporting marriage equality or a rainbow flag.
The important thing is to keep talking about it, especially with the folks in the middle.
Advocating for non-discrimination based upon gender or sexual orientation, is not new to our faith tradition. Unitarian Universalism has been on record as supporting the rights of bisexual, gay, and lesbian people since 1970. The Office was formed in 1973. We have advocated against sodomy laws and job and housing discrimination. We have advocated for ceremonies of union and same-gender marriage, the right to serve in the military, the right to lead congregations as ministers and religious professionals, and the right to be parents. We are now on record as supporting the rights of transgender people. The number of Welcoming Congregations is growing, having nearly doubled in the last 18 months. There is still much homophobia and heterosexism. The work and the story are still in progress. And, each of us has the opportunity to be a part of the work and the story.
Remember that wedding I spoke about earlier? The one in Albion? Well, I left an important detail out about that wedding story. What I didn’t tell you was that the two people I joined together in a public ceremony of their commitment and love of one another are two men.
I wanted to see if you made any of the same assumptions about that I did that day. I went to Albion with the thought that the some of the farmers or the prison workers who attended the ceremony might be a little less accepting of a wedding that was for two men. I thought they might express judgment or glance away from the couple as they shared a loving kiss after their vows. I thought I might find someone give me a hint that this was a departure from the norm for them, with a wink, a smile, a joke. But I never saw those things. And I never thought I would see Grandpa, in the front row, wiping a tear away from the corner of his eye.
And oh, yes, Jesus and the devil? The temptations of power and privilege, whether they rest in the privilege of heterosexism, or class or race, exist for all of us. When we truly begin to tell the truth about who we are, claiming ourselves as unique beings who each possess gifts for the world, and when we resist the temptation to take the path of keeping our secrets to ourselves, that is when we will find that we all enter the holy land together, and we get to experience the joy of coming home to the place, the Kingdom, where all are truly welcome.
May it be so. Amen.
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