15 April 2013

Marriage Equality

In 2003, a lifetime ago in American culture, the vestry was presented with a petition. The petition had been secretly circulated by some parishioners. I was not invited to sign, circulation was furtive and selective.

The vestry took the petition seriously. Petitioners requested creation of a policy forbiding the use of parish assets to bless or otherwise recognize single gender unions.

The vestry undertook a study of the relevant canon law. A detailed response to the petition was published. The response was very narrowly focused. Under canon law the vestry said, the rector holds all authority over the liturgical life of that parish, subject only to the bishop. That being so, the vestry could not and would not approve or reject the petition because on its face it was out of order.

About 20 member families left. Some went to a nearby parish that is known for its ultra-conservative views, others went to other more conservative communions. The parish moved on, saddened but resolute.

Several years ago, Illinois became one of the States that created a sort of larval stage of marriage equality: the civil union. It now appears likely Illinois will finally take the step to full marriage equality. Illinois politicians are not substantially different from those in other States. They do not lead so much as ride the waves. That is, the shift in our legislature reflects what is going on in the society. To borrow a line from Bob Dylan: the times they are changing."

Responding to the social change, and the probable trajectory of State law, the bishop of Chicago circulated a question to the vestries. The question: what will your policy will be when, not if, when, State law is changed. The times are indeed changing.

When times change, there is always controversy. Those who benefited from the old paradigm do not want to give up privileged positions. The arguments for the old paradigm can be called, "original intent," or "God's word" but at the end of the day, the fight is always about standing, money, and power.

This question is not easier ten years later. Whatever a vestry decides, someone in their parish will be offended.

So there I was, first vestry meeting in years, first one with this vestry, 32 years a member of the parish, none-the-less, one of the new guys. A motion was presented authorizing anyone entering any lawful monogamous union, to seek the sacerdotal participation of the clergy and use of our facilities. As always is true this would be subject to the decision of the rector who can refuse to marry anyone if she sees an issue.

We unanimously passed the motion. Our doors and arms are open.

What troubled me then, and troubles me now, is a question we did not address. When exactly did someone vote to make my straight, happy, nearly 45 year, marriage acceptable? In a real sense the problem I see is that we, the straight majority, have a privileged position from which we can decide the status of lgbt people.

Polling data show a tectonic shift in our society. Depending on which poll you read, as many as 80% (!) of young people support marriage equality. They not only hold a "yes" position, they wonder that someone thinks there is viable "no" position. They give me hope.

America will be a step closer to its dream when no one seriously thinks that there is something called, "gay marriage." Then we will simply have marriage and people entering into it. I once thought I would not live to see that day. Now given the change since +Gene Robinson bravely took the ordination oaths in the face of death threats,to today's recognition of the changes, I think I will see it all unfold.

Times change, cultures change, and sometimes the rate of change can be breathtaking. In the fifty or so years between the end of WWII, and the end of the 20th century, the very idea that schools, buses, housing, or, marriage, should be separated by skin color became laughable. After centuries of cultural and structural racism, the culture grew up in a rush.

I think it is rather like earthquakes. Over time, pressure builds, and suddenly there is a shift or a series of changes. When the rate of change accelerates, violent reaction from the losers intensifies. One hears increasingly, the lunatic right wanting to, "take our country back," a concept that would only make sense if they ever owned it!

We should expect that we will hear a lot of anger and disagreement for a while. Some of the reaction will be violent. We have seen it before: losers wearing white sheets, cowards with bombs killing children at their church. But in the end, America has changed. We seldom go back, and when we do, as in the McCarthy period, we recover our direction.

Hang on! This will be a wild ride!

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