I never liked Valentine's Day. I'm one of those guys who agrees with the complainers that it's just another commercialized marketing scam to guilt consumers into buying things we can't afford for people who don't really need them, and are never really satisfied by these pressured, useless gestures anyway. It's a day that breeds resentments and disappointments in couples, and self-pity in those who are single; a day I've always preferred to downplay or avoid altogether.
However, this year, as I was encouraging the young adults I most care about to join me at a peaceful prayer vigil organized by LGBTQ Christians that happens to take place this Valentine's Day, I found hope for a new way to celebrate it. For many centuries, what we now call "Valentine's Day" was an annual commemoration of the faithful example of a third-century Christian martyr of the Roman Empire, who according to at least one legend received capital punishment specifically for performing Christian weddings between couples forbidden to marry by Roman law. Only in the last two centuries has February 14 become associated almost exclusively with the expression of love between romantic partners rather than the annual feast day of its martyred namesake (whose spiritual example of civil disobedience can so inspire those of us who desire marriage equality in and out of the Church).
The young LGBT adults in my life are often told by their teachers, pastors and parents that they can never celebrate love for a same-sex partner, that to do so is "an abomination" that would cast them and their partner into hell everlastingly (Leviticus 18:22,1 Corinthians 6:9). Many times I've comforted a suicidal, broken-hearted lesbian or gay, young adult who feels condemned to live alone just to stay in their faith community -- or even simply want to protect their beloved partner from being cursed to damnation. However, although the Christian apostle Paul encouraged celibacy as preferable to marriage, he also conceded that this was only his opinion and that those who can't remain chaste should marry (1 Corinthians 7:1-28). So on this day, as on all days, I affirm as the Hebrew Bible teaches God to have said, "It is not good for the human to be alone," (Genesis 2:18). Today I choose to celebrate as sacramental the gay and lesbian marriages -- present or future -- of the LGBTQ students, friends and family in my life. I choose to believe that our love, like that between Rachel and Jacob, is worth working for and waiting for -- not forever in chastity, but to be celebrated in the full embrace of marriage, family and the community of the faithful.
This Valentine's Day, some of us in the LGBT community (including Christian allies) will gather to encourage each other, build community and envision together where our communal witness can lead. We will spend about half an hour together to pray or meditate peacefully for those who make policy decisions regarding LGBT people and allies and also for those harmed by those decisions. By gathering together, not only for mutual support, but to be faithfully, lovingly present to those who seek to exclude us, we hope to remind our community of faith that lesbian, gay, bisexual, trans, queer, questioning and intersex people are part of everyone's community, a part of God's world, a part of our one common human family (for more information, go here.)
By bearing faithful witness to the God-given beauty of gay and lesbian love, not just individually or as couples, but as a community, praying for those who marginalize us, we reclaim Valentine's Day from self-focus. We detach it from shame, self-pity, guilt, disappointment and hurt feelings. Together, we can choose to celebrate this Valentine's Day by expressing unconditional, real love in its deepest and widest sense -- truly affirming love for our LGBTQ selves, for each other, for our allies and even for our "enemies."