By The Rev. Madison Shockley
As a minister for almost 30 years I have had the joy of performing many weddings. Ministers are called upon to participate in a variety of important moments in the lives of their people; none is more filled with joy than a wedding. In recent years, I have had the opportunity to perform same-gender wedding ceremonies with the blessing of my denomination, the United Church of Christ. But it wasn’t until recent months (June to be exact) that I was able to perform such weddings with the authority of the state of California.
Since the state court ruling legalizing equal marriage in California, I have performed eight weddings for same-gender couples. Only one of them had not previously had some other kind of religious or social ceremony to celebrate their relationship. What I find most interesting is how important it is for couples, many of whom have been together for decades, to have the opportunity to be legally married. For most of us straight allies, the right to marry is so fundamental it is difficult to imagine what it would mean to be prohibited from marrying the person we love. Even more difficult to imagine is that the voters of California could conspire to negate my marriage of 25 years! And that brings us to the situation in which we find ourselves regarding Proposition 8, on Tuesday’s ballot in California.
The thousands of same-gender couples who have married in the few months since the California Supreme Court cleared the way are in fact married. The notion that a majority vote by people who are not party to these marriages of love, commitment, care and family will have the power to impose a divorce on these couples is flatly repugnant. The idea that those who wish to form relationships that will enhance their lives, provide a framework of support and nurture for their relationship, protect their families (especially their children) from uncertainty at the most vulnerable times in life (particularly illness and death) should be prohibited because of the religious feelings of some and the blatant bias of others strikes me as un-American.
It has often been noted that the Bill of Rights would have a difficult time passing today. The freedom of religion goes both ways. One is free to marry according to one’s faith (or personal beliefs) and others are free to marry according to their faith (or personal beliefs). As a minister of one of the oldest religious traditions in America (the Pilgrim Congregationalists are our ecclesiastical ancestors) I stand in the tradition of the freedom of conscience that was the basis not only of Protestantism but of democracy and liberty at the founding of the United States.
“The moral arc of the universe is long but it bends toward justice” are words made more famous by the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. during the course of the civil rights movement of the 1960s. It was his subtle way of warning those wedded to the ideology of segregation that they were not only inevitably wrong but that the world, despite their best efforts, would inevitably change. Many of the advances of the civil rights era were won at the bar of the court and not at the ballot box. It is sad to see black clergy of the megachurch movement, like Frederick Price of the Crenshaw Christian Center, sullying the moral authority of the black church by partnering with the right-wing evangelicals, Mormons and Knights of Columbus to pass Proposition 8. It is a travesty to see the proponents of Prop. 8 use children like human shields against any charge of homophobia that might rightly be leveled against them. They send out mailers and produce ads that use words like violated and child sacrifice in the same sentence with their protestations against gay marriage. The most ironic part of this unholy alliance is that removing discrimination against a class of people is at the heart of equal marriage. The proponents feel if they can leverage the symbol of the struggle against discrimination (black folks) they can blunt the edge of the argument for equal marriage.
I do pray that voters in California will get on the right side of justice and the right side of history on Tuesday. If Proposition 8 passes it will be a devastatingly painful affirmation of our culture’s capacity to inflict intentional harm on millions of persons whose only crime is a desire to live and love honestly. This time it is different from 2000 when Californians voted on Proposition 22, a measure to block same-sex marriage. Then, we had inherited a world in which these relationships were not recognized by law or custom. But now we have entered, although only recently, a brave new world in which all persons may live and love with equality before the law. To go backward would be a tragedy; not just for them but also for all of us who regard as more civilized a society that offers more and not less opportunity for meaningful, legitimate participation by all its citizens.
AP photo / Kevork Djansezian
Robin Tyler, left, hugs Diane Olson after their same-sex wedding. The Jewish ceremony took place on the steps of Beverly Hills Courthouse.