One Day We Will Always Have Had The Freedom To Marry

St. Louis Post-Dispatch
February 15, 2010

Sunday was Valentine’s Day. Lovers– whether new or old, celebrated their relationship. Many brought flowers or chocolate for their sweetie. In public, some people held hands, hugged, and smiled at each other.

But, some couples kept their hands at their sides, their eyes straight ahead. They tried to be very careful in public that no one saw how much they cared for each other. Why?

Because in Missouri, if your landlord discovers you are gay, you can be kicked out of your apartment. You can be fired from your job, tossed out of a restaurant, discharged from your taxi cab– all because you are gay.

And it won’t matter if you and your sweetie have been together for 22 years or 2 weeks. You may not be treated as “family” when it comes to visiting your special someone in the hospital or even at a funeral home.

And it won’t matter that you and your beloved own a home together, have raised children, or are productive, tax paying members of society who serve on their school’s PTO or who have served our country in the military.

Despite any–  and all of that– The state of Missouri will deny your relationship. Our state would just as soon you stay in the closet, thank you very much.

But my church, and churches of other denominations embrace those relationships. Supporting the spiritual and religious growth of families is one of the reasons our church exists.

And we Unitarian Universalists take the long view. We take the long view because most of us believe as Dr. King did, that “the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Unitarian Susan B. Anthony knew this. “She … gave 75 to 100 speeches every year on women’s rights for 45 years.” She died 104 years ago this March. And despite all her efforts, women in this country did not have the right to vote until 14 years after her death in 1920.

She dedicated her life to the proposition that the day would come when women would get the right to vote. It might not come soon, and it might not come before her life ended, but she knew the day would come, and so, she worked to bring it about that much sooner.

Social justice efforts always seem to take longer than we want them to. But we also know that times change, that what the larger culture approves or condemns, changes with time.

40 years ago in some southern states it was against the law for a black woman to marry a white man. Today, we think it is normal for consenting adults of different races or ethnicity to marry each other.

It took men and women of good will to bring about this change– it didn’t just happen overnight.

In our day, we hear most loudly the religious right pushing homophobia by insisting gays and lesbians could change their sexual orientation, if only they chose to. They encourage hate crimes by talk of “waging war against homosexuality” and they justify hatred on questionable biblical interpretation.

Remember: 200 years ago, “good” Christians kept slaves and they pointed to biblical passages that condoned slavery. It used to be that women were forbidden to teach men, wear gold or pearls, or dress in men’s clothing, and men were forbidden from shaving.

We can respect the religious wishes of those who choose to live their life in a particular way, but–  at the same time– reject the idea that everyone has to live according one sect’s particular religious views.

Given that most Missourians now oppose same sex marriage, why do I think marriage fairness will come to our state?

In October 2002, I preached a sermon on gay marriage. At that time, there was no place in the U.S. where gays and lesbians could marry. A mere 7 ½ years ago, it didn’t seem like gays & lesbians would be able to legally marry in my lifetime.

But today, about 1/3 of U.S. states recognize gay marriage or civil unions.

Gays and lesbians can marry in New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, Iowa, and Vermont. And if they marry there, their marriages would be recognized in New York, California, Rhode Island, New Mexico and Washington, DC.

Gays and lesbians could marry in California but with the passage of Proposition 8, gay and lesbian couples who were married between June and November 2008 are still legally married, but no new gay legal marriages can be performed in California right now.

I conducted the first public gay wedding in the Midwest, at Eliot Chapel in 2004 in Kirkwood, and later I filed the wedding ceremony at the county court house declaring I believed the marriage valid. Why? Because I believed it was religiously valid according to my faith tradition. And, it was the right thing to do.

As a married male minister, I know I am in a uniquely privileged place to speak about marriage fairness.

Gays and straights alike ought to be allowed the possibility of getting married. That doesn’t mean anyone has to get married: marriage is not for everyone, but until lesbians & gays have the same legal relationship rights as heterosexuals, lesbians & gays will always be 2nd class citizens.

I believe lesbians and gays want what we all want: someone to love and to be loved by. They want children (or not), they want a home stable enough to have room for spiritual growth.

For all these reasons, some gays and lesbians have gotten up the courage to march out of the closet and down the aisle. Why? As George Eliot has written:

What greater thing is there for two human souls than to feel that they are joined for life, to strengthen each other in all labor, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent, unspoken memories at the moment of the last parting?

Gays and lesbians are a minority and need the help and blessings of those of us who are called to work for marriage fairness.

Our children and our grandchildren live in a different world than we do. I am reminded that one of my parishioners is a freshman at Beloit College in Wisconsin.

Beloit puts out an annual “Mindset List” to remind us of these freshman’s context.

For example, for our freshman at Beloit,

  1. The European Union has always existed
  2. Condoms have always been advertised on television
  3. Britney Spears has always been heard on classic rock stations.
  4. The status of gays in the military has always been a topic of political debate.

And yet, most Americans– republicans and democrats alike– support the repeal of “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell.” One day, the day will come, when the status of gays in the military will NOT be a topic of political debate.

And one day, the day will come– and it may not be in my lifetime, or yours– but one day, the day will come when marriage fairness will be a given. And 18 year old children off to college, will be able to say– there has always been gay marriage.   [Link]