When Courtney and I were married by Doug Pagitt at Solomon’s Porch in July, 2011, there were no legal documents signed. The State of Minnesota and Hennepin County were not invited to our wedding. Our parents, my kids, other family and friends all celebrated just as joyously as any other wedding (maybe even moreso), and no one asked when we were going to sign the legal contracts required by the state for our marriage to be sanctioned by the government.
I’m guessing that no one thought twice about that because we could get legally married any time we wanted. Many of our friends, however, could not. That meant that their marriage ceremonies, while sacred, did not have the potential to be legal. It was for this reason that Courtney and I decided to forego legal marriage until such time as our GLBT friends were afforded all of the benefits that accrue with a legal marriage. (In Minnesota alone, that was estimated to be 515 benefits.) [Read more...]
The Obama administration is bringing the power of the federal government to bear in supporting gay marriage. First, the attorney general’s office refused to enforce DOMA, then they repealed DADT in the military, and now the IRS will afford marital tax benefits to all legally married couples, regardless of what state they reside in:
WASHINGTON — All same-sex couples who are legally married will be recognized as such for federal tax purposes, even if the state where they live does not recognize their union, the Treasury Department and the Internal Revenue Service said Thursday.
It is the broadest federal rule change to come out of the landmark Supreme Court decision in June that struck down the 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, and a sign of how quickly the government is moving to treat gay couples in the same way that it does straight couples.
I realize that it is a grandiose claim to say that, regarding marriage equality, I stand on the right side of history. But that’s exactly what I felt as I stood in the rotunda of the Minnesota State Capitol and held vigil with thousands of others as the State Senate debated HF 1054, extending the right to marry to same sex couples. At 4:19pm, it passed 37-30, and today at 5pm, Governor Mark Dayton will sign it into law.
I stood alongside Doug Pagitt, Jay Bakker, and Russell Rathbun, fellow (straight, white, male) Minnesota clergymen who also support marriage equality. Dozens of clergy were in the crowd, based on the number of clerical shirts I saw. Many of them stood in the middle, leading songs — we were along the edge of the crowd, greeting people we know. Also there were Courtney with her camera (see above), Wendy Johnson and her daughter, our friends Bryan and Scott, and other friends and acquaintances. We were receiving news about the speeches inside the Senate chambers via text message and Twitter.
Marriage equality is a civil rights issue.
On a flight last week, I sat next to a conservative Pentecostal pastor. We talked about demons and miraculous healings. And, probably to the consternation of those around us, argued vociferously about “marriage.” He was, like so many conservative evangelicals these days, in favor of civil unions for GLBT persons. But not “marriage.” No, “marriage” is something totally different, he told me.
Of course, he’s wrong. “Marriage” is nothing more than a word, composed of an assortment of letter — symbols with correlated vocal sounds. The definition of that word has changed since it was first used in English, and it changed over time in the many other languages that preceded English.
We invest words with meaning. That’s exactly what he’s hoping to do with the combination of words, “civil” and “union.” He wants that combo to mean something, and “marriage” to mean something else. That’s fine. But to suggest that the meaning that we’ve invested in the combination of letters m-a-r-r-i-a-g-e is almost shockingly naive.
Take Geoff Nunberg, the linguist for NPR’s Fresh Air. His most recent commentary is about how dictionaries are dealing with the on-the-ground changes to the word, “marriage”:
Last year I asked whether Christian leaders who quietly support increasing the rights of gays and lesbians in society and church should be outed. I asked because I have publicly stated my position, and I’m often asked told by others that they just know what so-and-so Christian leader/author/pastor thinks about “the gay issue.” In other words, some people suggest that particular Christian leaders are being coy about how they feel about same sex marriage or gay/lesbian ordination in order to not be punished in the Christian marketplace.
I was chastened by a friend of mine who leans toward full acceptance of gays and lesbians in all spheres of ecclesial and secular life. He’s a pastor, and he told me that there’s even more at stake for him. To make the gay issue a major trope of his preaching or pastoral leadership has implications for both his gay and hetero congregants. In fact, he told me that several lesbian couples in his church have asked him not to vocalize his opinions on the matter. They want their church experience to be free of the politics that their sexuality brings up elsewhere in their lives. Fair enough, I said.
Well, along comes the Believe Out Loud Campaign, meant to encourage mainline pastors who favor gay inclusion in church and society but fear congregational dissension to come out about their beliefs. [UPDATE: their website does not seem to work -- not a good sign for the campaign, which launched yesterday (Valentine's Day).] [NEWER UPDATE: Free advice: If you're trying to launch a social media campaign, pay the $19.95 on GoDaddy to get your own URL. And have your subpages up and running before you launch.]
Religion Dispatches quotes Robert Chase, who is running the campaign, saying,
5. A Handful of Evangelical Leaders Will Soften Their Stance on Gay Issues
You can see that I’ve got a couple caveats in that one — “handful” and “soften” and “issues.” I don’t think that 2010 will see a great revolution in how evangelicals will view same sex marriage or gays in the church, but I do think that some leaders will speak out in support of civil unions or gay Sunday school teachers or something like that. And I don’t think it’ll be Rick Warren or anything like that, but I do think it will be three or four leaders (authors, pastors, professors, etc.) will encourage evangelicals to take baby steps toward more inclusion of GLBT persons in church and society.
4. Rick Warren’s Cultural Influence Will Wane, and the Media Will Anoint a New Evangelical Spokesman
That last two news items about Rick Warren in 2009 were not kind to him. First, he dragged his feet for a couple weeks before speaking out against the proposed legislation in Uganda (where Warren is very popular) that would have made homosexuality a crime punishable by imprisonment and would have legalized the execution of those with HIV/AIDS. Then, last week, he issued an “urgent plea” t0 his mega-church congregation on December 30 asking them to cover the church’s $900,000 shortfall. Last weekend, Warren preached that the church’s $2.4 million response was a “miracle.”
Honestly, Warren pastors one of the nation’s largest congregations in one of the country’s wealthiest counties (Orange County, California). In what sense is asking people for money and having them give it a “miracle”? It’s for these reasons and others that I think the national media will start looking elsewhere for a fresh, young face to speak for evangelicals. It won’t be Joel Osteen, because being “evangelical” is not a primary aspect of his public persona. It won’t be Franklin Graham, because he’s not articulate enough. It won’t be Rob Bell, because he eschews labels, and because the evangelical intelligentsia will not approve of him. It won’t be Mark Driscoll for the same reason. I think it will be a young (40-ish) pastor of a mega-church who lands himself a radio show and writes a best-seller. Look for a guy like that on top-ten religion news lists at the end of 2010.
In 2008, after the passage of Proposition 8 in California, I blogged about my support for gay and lesbian persons and their right to be married. If there’s one thing I’ve noticed in the time since, it’s been how few people paid attention to the nuances of my position. So I thought I’d take the opportunity to write a bit more about it now.
It is very odd to me that in the U.S., clergy act as agents of the government at weddings. In my state, for instance, the bride and groom apply for the marriage license at the county court house, but they don’t actually sign the license. Instead, it’s signed by a member of the clergy and by two witnesses. And, of course, without the clergy signature, it is invalid.
When I talk to pastors and priests about this, almost all of them express extreme discomfort at this situation, for it actually requires the clergyperson to act as an extension of the state. And that conflicts with the theology held by many pastors, Calvinist and Arminian, Protestant and Catholic.
I’m a real fan of the blogging medium, and I’m actually becoming more so. But I think it’s only one medium in a panoply of media that help us to engage an issue like same sex marriage. Blogs are good, and I have great hopes for my blogalogue with Rod, but I also hope that all of our readers will also read long-form essays and articles, books, shorter op-eds, even Tweets.
An example comes from my last post. Almost immediately after posting it, I received a couple emails from friends asking what exactly I meant in titling it, It’s “Not About Me.” What I meant is this: One the one hand, I’m not gay, so I necessarily don’t feel the passion about this issue that gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgendered persons do.
On the other hand, I’m not a social scientist. I won’t be reporting on my blog in some sterile, forensic fashion about research that says our society will be quantitatively better if same sex marriage is legalized. If that were the case, I could throw my hands in the air and say that the research isn’t my opinion, it’s just what the research says.
But that’s not the case. Instead, I’m somewhere in the middle. Rod and I, I’m sure, will both bring research to bear on the blogalogue, and we’ll use data to support our viewpoints. But, in the end, we’re not scientists, and we’re not gay. We’re opinionators. I’m not ashamed of that fact — I’m just trying to call it what it is.
So I tried to communicate that on the last post, and I failed in some sense.
Which exemplifies the shortcomings of the blogging medium. In fact, the medium is so limited that some of my friends have warned me not to enter into a blog-based dialogue on such a sensitive. They fear that I’ll be misunderstood and misinterpreted, that a blog cannot communicate the nuance and complexities necessary to this topic, and that the comment section will become a verbally violent place. And they may be right in all of those concerns.
But every medium has limitations — just look at the “news” that passes for the major network newscasts. So I endeavor to do two things as I enter into this blogalogue. First, acknowledge the limits of a blogalogue. We won’t solve this issue; and it’s unlikely that we’ll write anything that hasn’t been written before. But maybe we’ll shed light on some things, and hopefully we’ll dialogue in a way that will provoke further dialogue in the comment sections, at coffee shops, over dinner tables, and at church committee meetings.
And second, Rod and I are going to complement our written blog dialogue with an in-person conversation (this Thursday), maybe some video, and even a closing podcast conversation. The point being, Rod and I will have the benefit of breaking bread together at the beginning of our dialogue. You probably won’t if you get into a debate with someone in the comment section. But how about you act like you have broken bread with the other? That might be a good rule for us all to live by.