Freedom to Marry

I knew I would be happy, but I was surprised by the intensity of emotion that I felt when New York State legalized same-sex marriages. I am over-the-top thrilled that our state has taken this important step for inclusivity. As I get older it seems that the valve controlling my tear ducts becomes increasingly looser, so I get choked up every time I talk about this historic event (including in my sermon) this past weekend. I attribute my emotions to the length of time I have been praying for this, how important this is for gay and lesbian couples, and, also, because of the freedom of expression it now gives to our church and my ministry.

I participated in my first same-sex blessing service almost twenty-five years ago. At the time it felt like guerrilla-style worship—under the radar and never to be ratified by the state. Even in 2006 when the United Church of Christ General Synod passed their resolution in favor of marriage equality I thought they were over-reaching and wondered is this would ever happen in my lifetime. Even while I was skeptical of legislature’s actions we at CCH were acting on our Open and Affirming stance and performing blessing services for same sex relationships. As this previous sentence demonstrates, we had to go out of our way to not use the word marriage. One thing I have learned in this whole debate is that marriage is a civil, not a religious, action. We, in our churches, may bless unions, but it isn’t a marriage unless the state says so. In New York it is even illegal to perform a wedding service without a marriage license.

Leading these same-sex blessing services was a profound religious event for me and for our church, but it also left me feeling sad—no matter the love and faith shown by the couple, it was not a marriage. It was also not a complete wedding service. Our church may have authorized these blessing services, but the laws of the state were keeping us from doing what we felt was right. We wanted to have our sanctuary open for all people to make the commitment of marriage, but legally we could not do so.

So the freedom for marriage equality is also, for our church, the freedom to marry. I may now legally marry gay and lesbian couples in the state of New York. Wow! I am proud of our state and am I so proud of our congregation for helping to lead the way in bringing about this important civil right and religious rite. My sermon from last Sunday is a reflection on this act and is on-line at http://www.lichurch.org/index.php/about-us/worship/sermons.

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