This is the eighth in a series on “One Christian Minister’s Response to Homosexuality.”
When I started dating my wife, Mary Sullivan, on January 29, 2003, I was swept off my feet. I told the world about it.
I remember calling my “surrogate mother” from my college years, Ina Durham, from the airport as I was leaving Mary in Chapel Hill in 2003.
“Ina,” I said with unbridled clarity like I had never expressed, “I have fallen in love, I’ve been swept off my feet, and it has finally happened!” She giggled with me and asked for more details. Ina and Harry had been second parents to me for almost 30 years. They always held on to the hope that I would find a life partner with whom I could celebrate life fully. Over the next few days, I called dozens of people to share my joy. I told Kelly, Chris, Joe, Mike, and many others at work about this new love I had found.
But I simply cannot imagine having to keep that relationship a secret from others. And yet, that’s what some of my friends do on a daily basis who are gay. If they are not ready to risk rejection from friends, or love that is withheld from family members, they keep quiet. They tell no one, and their joy is silenced.
Many of my friends who are gay or lesbian have to mute their excitement daily, use “neutral pronouns” when they are asked by work colleagues what their weekend plans are, or shake their heads “No” when a stranger asks them if they are married or have children when making small talk. They are asked, but they don’t tell. Except maybe in the smallest of circles.
I called Rick Meyer, my close friend from Glastonbury, CT who had stood by me for years when I struggled through my divorce, and had been there for me through several relationships that didn’t work out. He shared my joy when I told him I was getting married. I had found my life partner and I wanted the world to know.
Mary and I went to the court house and bought our marriage license. We called my pastor and asked her if she would perform our wedding ceremony in a few days. Sarah had come to know Mary and her children because we worshiped together regularly and she was almost as excited as we were. We eloped a few days later with only Sarah, Judy Bridgers (close friend), and Brendan and Kiki present. Instantly Mary and I had all of the rights and responsibilities that all spouses enjoy. But not so if you are gay. And that’s just not right.
Not only can you not buy a marriage license for your life partner in Alabama if you are gay, but you better not ask your clergy person about blessing your relationship either. They are more likely to see your joyful love as illegitimate and shameful.
Even the most caring and enlightened clergy I know believe they have to turn down the opportunity to do a “Union Ceremony” for a gay couple because his or her job depends on it. Who can blame them? How many of us make decisions that risks our present and future job opportunities? And yet no hospital visitation, or property rights, or inheritance come with a clergy blessing.
I used to think that “domestic partnerships” sanctioned by the state would be enough if it gave equal rights to couples. I should know better growing up in the South during the Civil Rights movement and hearing “equal but separate” education for persons who were black and white. Those of us who were white believed it was very equal and were thankful it was separate. It didn’t affect the majority of white folks anyway. When you are in the minority though, being equal is more important.
While domestic partnerships might be an interim step, a domestic partnership is not enough. For gay couples whose faith is central in their lives, anything short of a wedding denies a gay couple the joy and blessing of their church.
I believe that God is love, so how can I oppose two persons who want to make a life commitment to one another in love? How can I deny a couple all of the rights that I take for granted? How can I deny a couple the social support that I value in my own marriage? How can I deny a couple the blessing all straight couples get in a church whether their faith is central or not in their lives?
But I can continue to offer my services to gay couples who ask for a blessing in a Union Ceremony as I have done in the past in Alabama. I can advocate for gay couples to have rights that are equal to straight couples. And I can work towards the day when gay marriage is legal in Alabama. Don’t laugh. Many of my brothers and sisters in my home state could not have imagined the day when an African American man would be President of the United States. And we will have an African American governor in the state of Alabama, maybe sooner rather than later.
My silence in the past as been my downfall. I simply can’t do it anymore. It’s just not right.
NOTE: There are signs of hope. Connecticut, Massachusetts, Iowa (April 27, 2009), Vermont (September 1, 2009), and Maine (May 6, 2009) have legalized same gender marriages. California approved same sex marriages, then had it taken away, and is still being pursued. Bills to allow same-sex marriage are currently before lawmakers in New Hampshire, Maine, New York and New Jersey. Legal unions or domestic partnerships are approved in New Jersey, New Hampshire and Washington (April 15, 2009). Maine, Hawaii, District of Columbia, Oregon, and Maryland have created legal unions with certain rights. Read more here.