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Rev. Dr. Jo Hudson Headshot

Marriage Equality and the End of the World

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On the morning of July 4, 2005, I was sitting on the floor of the Georgia World Conference Center in Atlanta, Ga., as a delegate to the 25th General Synod of the United Church of Christ, awaiting a vote on our denomination's resolution on marriage equality. We had wrestled with this issue for years, but on that morning the resolution had finally come to a vote.

When debate was closed, a hush fell over the room as we prayed silently. No doubt there were prayers being called down on both sides of this issue, and we knew that whatever the outcome of the vote, there would be gains and losses, hopes and fears, joys and sorrows.

When voting began, a sea of hands holding green cards indicating a "yes" vote told the world that the vote had passed overwhelmingly. It marked the first time that one of our nation's mainline Protestant denominations had expressed support for marriage for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons.

And all that we suspected might happen did. Some individuals, churches and an entire conference voted to leave the denomination. And yes, it was the end of our denomination as we had known it. Yet while some of the changes we faced were difficult and painful, it wasn't the end of the world. The United Church of Christ still exists today and, in fact, is experiencing a renaissance in the birth of new congregations and the reception of existing congregations who want to affiliate -- the highest growth we have seen in several years.

In the wake of that historic decision of the 25th General Synod, we learned that the challenges of dealing with marriage equality did not magically disappear. We learned that equality for any people who are disenfranchised is a life-long journey. And we discovered that our commitment to follow in the way of Jesus by loving our neighbors as ourselves was still the bellwether test of our faith.

Today, the Supreme Court of the United States has moved us one more step toward the full equality of marriage for LGBT people. Some will argue that they did not go far enough. Others will celebrate their action as right and just. Some will predict the end of the world and the destruction of the United States of America for having sold its soul in order to meet the demands of a "gay agenda."

Still, on this 44th anniversary of the Stonewall riots, which marked the beginning of the LGBT rights movement, and on the brink of another July 4th, which marked the moment when freedom took center stage on the canvas of human life and governance, the Supreme Court of our land has affirmed a commitment to the civil rights of same-gender-loving people. While our country as we know it will be changed by this decision, some things will not change. We will still debate this issue. There will still be injustices and violence against LGBT people. There will likely be protests on both sides of the issue and some acts of civil disobedience in protest. Churches, synagogues, temples and mosques will continue to marry people and will also continue to have the ability to decide whom they will marry and whom they won't marry.

And as they have done for centuries, LGBT people will still stand before their God and proclaim their love for each other. They will covenant to live in loving relationships with each other. LGBT people will make lives together, have children and contribute to the communities in which they live by attending their places of faith, paying their taxes and volunteering in their communities. More importantly, LGBT people will continue to vote and will continue to work for their full freedoms. And one day we will look around and see that our country has, in fact, survived and that LGBT people are visible part of the rich fabric of diversity of our country with full and equal civil rights.

Some changes will happen quickly, others imperceptibly, but we will be changed. Now, as we live into the freedoms that were wisely granted by our Constitution, we have a chance to not only witness a grand shift toward freedom but live it and to see it through. We have before us an opportunity to live into the uniquely American experience of this great experiment called democracy. This is not the end of the world but simply the end of the world as we have known it.