Last week I sat 20 feet from both President Barack Obama and Kansas City's Rev. Adam Hamilton. It was the 57th time our nation's political and spiritual leaders gathered for the Inaugural Prayer Service, and Rev. Hamilton, senior pastor at America's largest United Methodist congregation, delivered the homily to a packed National Cathedral. Midway through his sermon, Rev. Hamilton spoke directly to President Obama and asked him to pick one goal that both political sides could come together to accomplish.
As I sat next to the pulpit among my fellow members of the National Cathedral Choir, and listened to Rev. Hamilton's impassioned words, I did more than just worry if the TV cameras were getting my good side. Through the hymns, prayers and Scripture readings, I pondered Adam Hamilton's challenge. In a country becoming increasingly polarized every day, I looked at President Obama and felt sympathy for him having been given such a difficult task. What issue could our nation come together on?
As one political party tries to move toward a more socialist model, while the other pleads to gut government like a fat pig, the economy seems far from an option. With bills on immigration reform being killed for details over building a fence along the Mexico border, no one will be saying "Sí, se puede!" (Yes, we can!) over that one. Shoot, Congress can't even agree on a bill condemning violence against women.
Listening to the prayers from various faith leaders who serve America's diverse religions, I wondered why we couldn't come up with something all Americans could endorse. If a Catholic archbishop, Orthodox Jewish rabbi, and Muslim imam can hold hands to pray and sing our national anthem together, surely there has to be one issue we can all agree is fair and just.
Just a week later, as I drove along the famed Washington Beltway that encircles America's boiling political pot, I tuned in to Fox News correspondent and radio host Sean Hannity. As he normally does, he railed against the president for everything from raising taxes to walking his dog. When a listener called in to discuss the economy, Hannity was quick to say that Obama should be focused more on it, instead of wasting his time on social issues like gay marriage. As I listened to Hannity, and stuck to my normal tendencies, I internally debunked his statement: "Well if all the Republicans would just vote to give gays equal rights, then nobody would have to spend their time on it."
It all clicked.
Last Election Day more than $30 million dollars was spent by the combined pro and anti-gay marriage coalitions. As an active volunteer for Washington-based pro-gay advocacy group the Human Rights Campaign, I witnessed first-hand the amount of money they were trying to raise, simply to keep up with anti-gay organizations "protecting marriage" for the 50 percent of heterosexual ones that don't end in divorce. I wondered why we had to waste so much money on issues like this when there are 17 million children in the United States who don't have access to sufficient food. Why couldn't both sides just raise that money and spend it on hunger, or building affordable housing -- ya know, something that might actually help stabilize our housing market and improve the economy.
To me, supporting gay marriage should be a no brainer for both conservatives and liberals. While Democrats can feel good that they are supporting an underrepresented minority, Republicans can be proud that they are supporting the grand idea of our Founding Fathers, which was individual freedom and equality for all. The problem, however, is that right now it seems that the only personal liberty conservative voters and politicians care about protecting is our right to kill people with guns (whether as an assailant, or a "good guy" taking-out a potential killer). I would much rather focus on passing individual freedom measures that allow gay marriage. Making love, not war.
So after Sean Hannity's prompt, I thought back to Adam Hamilton's challenge to the president: Find one issue that both sides can come together on. As Hamilton's sermon was given just a day after Martin Luther King Jr. Day, and from the same pulpit where King preached his final Sunday sermon before being assassinated, it seems fitting to reference one of his most famous quotes: "The arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice."
In a country founded on the ideals of freedom and personal liberties for all (even those we disagree with), it seems funny that 45 years after MLK's death we are quibbling over giving all people an equal pursuit of happiness. Maybe if we could just come together to grant our gay and lesbian brothers and sisters equal rights, it wouldn't take so long for that arc to bend.