This week in my basement archives I revisited my life in Massachusetts in 2003 and 2004, during the time when its Supreme Judicial Court declared that to deny civil marriage to same sex couples was unconstitutional. In the six months following their declaration, state legislators were arguing over trying to stop it from happening, or support it to happen, and we were at the state house too, lobbying, and rallying. I had forgotten many of the details of those months, but I had not forgotten the strange mix of joy and fear as we anticipated this unimaginable possibility. It is hard to believe that was only 19 years ago. Now marriage is accessible to same sex couples across the land, but it is still under threat. I found my remarks from a forum we held on Cape Cod that spring, and they still seem relevant today.
This was Civil Rights, Civil Marriage: A Forum on Equal Marriage Rights for Lesbian and Gay Couples, Cape Cod Community College, May 3rd, 2004, where I was part of a panel presentation. At that time I was a minister at First Parish Brewster, Unitarian Universalist. Linda Davies and Gloria Bailey were members of our church, and one of the plaintiff couples in the lawsuit. They also had just spoken at the event.
“I want to start by saying how much I am looking forward to signing the marriage license of Linda and Gloria on May 17th. When I sign that license, I won’t be acting merely on my own behalf, but representing the whole community of First Parish Brewster. I believe I speak for all of us when I say how grateful we are to Linda and Gloria for taking a risk with their lives to end discrimination against gay and lesbian couples, and what a joy it has been to join them at the front lines of this historic civil rights effort. I know that your courage and your transparent love for each other have touched people’s hearts and opened their minds.
“Our struggle is far from over. Many of our opponents use the teachings of Christianity to claim that gay and lesbian couples should be excluded from marriage. I think Jesus would be horrified to see how his message has been twisted.
“Someone once said that even the devil can quote the Bible. Every religious community that draws inspiration from the Bible has the challenge of interpreting a collection of documents that were written and gathered over 1800 years ago in languages and cultures not our own. Some people will tell you that they take the Bible literally word for word. I will tell you, following Karl Barth, that I take the Bible far too seriously to take it literally. As even my Catholic professors used to say, the Bible is ‘the word of God written in the words of men.’ It is full of contradictions and its heroes are entangled mixtures of good and evil. The Bible tells the stories of a community’s experience of the Holy in their midst. If we are to be true to its message, we must also pay attention to the working of the Holy within our midst.
“You know, Jesus actually said very little about marriage, and nothing about homosexuality. He wasn’t so concerned with family arrangements. He was concerned about love. He was concerned about how we care for each other, and especially, about how we care for those who are—what he called—’the least’ among us. He called on his followers to welcome the stranger, to take in the outcast; to bear witness to the kingdom of God within each person. He said, when we live in love, God is in our midst.
“I am a minister and I am a lesbian. So this moment in history is meaningful to me in two ways. I want to say that I respect how difficult this issue is for those who are religious. It was difficult for me when I was a young Catholic woman. It was easy to imagine that everyone could just follow the rules if they tried. It wasn’t until I became friends with a gay man in college that this ‘issue’ took on a human face—the face of a brother who was in deep pain because of the contradictions between the teachings of his religious tradition, and the inner truth of his own body and soul.
“When we risk honoring the truth in our own soul, we are entering dangerous ground. What if we are deluding ourselves? Some would say we are. But on the other hand, what if the truth in our souls is the voice of the Holy in our midst?
“The God of the prophets was always leading them beyond the comfort of the familiar in the direction of greater love. I believe that we are living in a prophetic moment. Something holy and miraculous is going on here. It has always been the Holy who has lifted up the downtrodden. It has always been the Holy who has filled the hearts of people with compassion. It has been the Holy who made strong the faint of heart, and transformed the lowly.
“Equal marriage is a civil rights issue, a legal issue, an issue of respect for diversity. But for my part, I want to take off my shoes, for I believe we are standing on holy ground.”