06/24/2008 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Standing on the Side of Love

Earlier this month I was in San Francisco, meeting with a few dozen friends and colleagues who have spent their careers working for equality for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) persons in every aspect of our religious and civic life. Many are ordained clergy; many are in committed, long-term relationships; and for the first time, many are planning their weddings.

Beginning at 5:01 p.m. Pacific time today, same-sex marriage finally becomes a reality in California. Massachusetts may have been the first state to embrace marriage equality, but California is the first where same-sex couples from any state may legally wed. Thus the exuberance among my colleagues -- from Minnesota, Georgia, Washington, D.C., Colorado, New York -- who are all planning California weddings in the coming months. They are among an estimated 68,000 out-of-state same-sex couples whom California officials are expecting to come west to wed.

Today's events bring to fruition the thrilling "winter of love" in 2004, when thousands of gay and lesbian couples stood in line outside the San Francisco city hall, where Mayor Gavin Newsom deliberately challenged state law by issuing marriage licenses to same-sex partners. Although those marriages were later invalidated, Newsom's challenge eventually led to the historic decision by the State Supreme Court that overturned marriage discrimination in California.

Four years later, as many couples return to city hall, many others will march down the aisles of their churches and synagogues. An under-reported aspect of the unfolding story in California is the long-standing, unqualified support for marriage equality among many of our most influential religious denominations.

In 1996, the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution in support of marriage equality. The same year, the Central Conference of American Rabbis passed a resolution supporting the "right of gay and lesbian couples to share fully and equally in the rights of civil marriage." Nine other denominations - including the United Church of Christ, the Episcopal Church USA, American Baptist Churches of the U.S., the Presbyterian Church U.S.A. and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association -- allow their clergy to perform ceremonies for same-sex couples (even though some insist that the word "marriage" not be used).

In 2004, a coalition of theologians and clergy from a range of religious traditions issued an Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality, affirming a broad, faith-based rationale for supporting marriage for same-sex couples.

Religious support is critical, because the struggle for equality is not over. In November, Californians will vote on a proposed amendment to the state constitution that would define marriage as an institution between one man and one woman. Californians -- indeed, all Americans -- must know that people of faith across the religious spectrum have taken a stand for justice.

During the next few months, thousands of newly married couples will celebrate with friends and families. They'll open gifts and cards, take a few days off, and then get on with their lives together, secure -- for the first time -- in the blessings of liberty. During the next few months, those heterosexual couples who now oppose same-sex marriage will surely learn that the marriages of their gay neighbors and co-workers really do not affect their own, that they enrich the institution of marriage, rather than do it harm.

During the next five months, the new will become commonplace.

I pray for the day that marriage for all consenting adults, regardless of sexual orientation, will be commonplace by law across the United States, commonplace by doctrine in many faith communities -- yet ever extraordinary for the two people who take the courageous and faithful step of pledging to build their lives together.

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