My parents wrestled with the idea of me marrying my partner. The sanctuary was packed but my father didn't come. Dad was brought up in the Deep South and my husband looked like the people who had practiced the nauseating hatred of Jim Crow in my father's hometown. News of the support of our union, and the tremendous standing ovation the congregation gave us, traveled back to my dad. The testimony of the ones he sent -- my mom and my brothers -- was that our love was beloved; this coupling, no matter our race, was a cause of rejoicing. It was the beginning of my dad's change of heart; God and God's people blessed us. He now thinks we are the best couple; the work we do together on racial reconciliation here and in South Africa is some of our most important work. Our unusual pairing is for my dad a sign that we are all beloved of God, no matter who we love, no matter what we do.
As a woman in an interracial marriage and as a senior pastor of a church, I think it is essential that we stand up for the rights of all people to marry. It is important to make our voices heard by our legislators in New York before June 20, as lawmakers will most likely vote this June about whether we will have marriage equality for gay and lesbian couples in New York State. Straight allies and Christians need to write, march, and call for justice alongside our gay brothers and sisters.
Before 1967, my marriage would have been illegal in most of the United States. Chief Justice Earl Warren and the nine other Supreme Court justices ruled unanimously in a landmark case, Loving v. Virginia, that "Marriage is one of the 'basic civil rights of man,' fundamental to our very existence and survival ... Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State."
My 72- and 76-year-old parents could not help but first experience our marriage through the skeptical eyes of their generation. Of course they questioned interracial love as they, in the very belly of their deeply brown bodies, remembered the bitter bile of Mississippi racism. Now, they love the way John and I love each other. For my parents, our marriage legitimizes, sanctifies, and celebrates our love and the unique wonder of God's good creation. "You and John chase away the blues of racism, just by being you," my parents say.
Even though we were both divorced, even though in the eyes of some churches our love is not sanctioned, we had the right to marry in our church and in the eyes of the law. Through happy tears, John shared his poem in which the "angels tapped their wings to the beat of our love;" I sang to him "The Nearness of You". Even though our marriage would have been illegal in Alabama up until 2000, we are married, and we have all of the rights, the responsibilities, and the joys that come with this publicly acknowledged partnership. Every person deserves this right.
Hatred and fear are often justified by things we project onto God. The Church gets pulled into giving God bad publicity. Parts of the church read the Bible with a literalism that is simply not appropriate. Not marrying part of God's creation that happens to be Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, or Transgender means we are not welcoming. Period. Jesus' preaching came down to these three edicts: love God, love neighbor, love self. That is what matters. And that should keep us busy!
I think it is wonderful that the Supreme Court's decision to uphold marriage as one of the "vital personal rights" protected under the 14th Amendment happens in a case called Loving v. Virginia.
Loving among two consenting adults that want to make a life-long commitment to one another must be recognized as a vital personal right, protected under the law, one that should be blessed and honored by the Church.
On Friday June 10, at 7:00 pm, my church is hosting a Renewal of Vows, Commitment Ceremony and Concert. We will bear witness as gay and straight couples renew vows and make new vows in our sanctuary. There will be wedding cake and a chance to sign onto working for marriage equality. This straight Black clergywoman, an ally and activist, is requesting the honor of your presence. Please stand with us for equal rights for all of God's children. Hear the music, celebrate your love, and take action towards marriage equality in New York.
Stand with God and in community in our sanctuary on June 10 for everyone's right to marry, and follow the political campaign online through New Yorkers United for Marriage, a coalition which includes Freedom to Marry, Marriage Equality New York, Empire State Pride Agenda, Human Rights Campaign, and the Log Cabin Republicans.
The church has not shown leadership for marriage equality, and younger generations especially are taking note of what we do, and what we stand for, in God's name. In a recent report released by The Middle Project, conducted by Public Religion Research Institute, "Doing Church and Doing Justice: A Portrait of Millennials at Middle Church," both straight and gay respondents described LGBT rights as being "a symbolic defining issue for their politics and a primary lens through which they evaluate religious institutions." It is our role as clergy and as Christians to preach about and work toward marriage equality for each child of God.
No matter whom you love, you are welcome to our sanctuary to renew or make your commitment. I hope you will join us on June 10. John and I will be there, once again celebrating our love with the angels tapping their wings, glad to be near each other, hoping to celebrate your love as well.