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The Rev. Jacqueline J. Lewis, Ph.D. Headshot

A Change Has Come: A Clergy's Response to the New York Vote for Gay Marriage

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NEW YORK GAY MARRIAGE
AP

I am old enough to remember drinking at the colored only water fountain in Ruleville, Mississippi, my mom's hometown when I was five years old in 1964. My mom grew up in Sunflower county, a place that gave birth to activist Fannie Lou Hamer, and a little boy named Emmett Till who was lynched at 14 for looking at a white woman too long.

I am not old enough to remember but I hold in my body the memories of my parents, who had to walk past the town high school to go to the colored high school on the other side of town. They could not be served food at the soda fountain, could not sit on the main floor at the movie theater. To vote was to take their lives in their own hands. My parents came of age in a place rich with the smells of magnolias, sweltering with the heat of the Mississippi Sun, and dripping with racism like the sweat from bodies picking cotton.

Now my parents have lived long enough to see an African American president elected.

My parents and I can testify that change does come. It often comes slowly, with the dedication of individuals, faith communities, and coalitions, but justice does come.

Four students in North Carolina made a small ripple when they sat at a Woolworth lunch counter, peaceably waiting to be served. The next day they took friends; soon there were 27. The sit-ins moved like waves, from state to state, dismantling segregation in the Deep South. Justice moved from state to state, crossing borders like the Freedom Riders on buses, causing a chain reaction all the way to Washington D.C., when President Johnson signed the Civil Rights Bill in 1967.

As an African American clergywoman, I also see gay rights as a civil rights issue. This summer, I will marry my congregants, Alex and Jeremy, just as I have other gay couples in the past. I look forward to the date our new law goes into effect, when these weddings will not only be seen in the eyes of God and the couples' family but will also be legal in our state.

There has been a lot of attention given to religious leaders who want to block the rights of gays and lesbians to marry. But there is not just one Christian voice. I serve a multiracial, multicultural church in New York City's East Village. At Middle Collegiate Church, we believe God made all of us perfectly. God made gay people gay. And we believe that God smiles on love. Jesus himself summarized his teachings this way: love God with all you have and love your neighbor as yourself. Christians have been on the side of ending slavery, of ensuring women and African Americans the right to vote, of working for economic justice, and advocating for the welfare of children.

We've been singing songs from the civil rights movement this June in New York -- "We Shall Overcome," "This Little Light of Mine" -- from our sanctuary to City Hall. We have been singing, "I'm gonna sit at the welcome table, sit at the welcome table one of these days." And we have stood silently outside the Senate Chambers in Albany so our legislators are reminded that people of faith support this issue.

The march for marriage equality continues on in most of our states. To find out how you can become involved in your state, visit Freedom to Marry's state directory of advocacy groups: here. Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said, "the arc of the moral universe is long but it bends toward justice." As each of us joins this movement, it is my hope that one of these days, all of God's people, no matter whom they love will be welcome at the table of grace and love. I could not have imagined when I was a little girl all the change my parents and I would see in my lifetime. I believe Sam Cooke's ballad has become a prophecy; it has been a long time coming, but a change is going to come.

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