TALKING TO PEOPLE OF FAITH: “No One Has Ever Seen God” 1 John 4

Guest Blogger: Rev. Thomas Mikelson

I have been a lifelong religious leader. I began as a young professor of religious studies in a small Methodist College and then, at age 35, entered the Unitarian Universalist ministry in 1971 (I have recently retired). I entered the UU ministry because its broad inclusiveness suggests the love of God as I experience it. I am a married heterosexual who has publicly supported the rights of gay and lesbian persons throughout my adult life, including the freedom to marry. The first lesbian couple to purchase a marriage license in Cambridge, Massachusetts in May of 2006 were both active in our church there. The City Clerk who issued the license was also active in our church. My minister colleague officiated at the legal ceremony for that couple and I officiated at their religious ceremony. In the spring of 2006, members of our congregation voted unanimously at an official meeting of the congregation to support Freedom to Marry. A banner was hung over the front entry of our meeting house in Harvard Square which said, “Support Freedom to Marry. We Do.”

I believe the Freedom to Marry is both a religious and a civil right. Denial of that right, I believe, is a form of discrimination just as surely as denial of rights on grounds of race or gender or social class. It is puzzling to me how people can oppose discrimination on the ground of race or gender and support discrimination against those who desire to marry someone of the same sex.

I understand that this issue is complex, that some of us are for freedom to marry and some are against it. We are in the midst of a deep and important struggle in our country to find a resolution for these differences of moral judgment. I have tried for years to understand those who oppose freedom to marry, but I cannot withhold the right to a civil marriage with all its rights and limitations from those who wish to marry a person of the same sex. I simply don’t get it. I have been a loyal American and a person of faith my entire life. The laws and codes governing civil marriage are social codes emerging over centuries. What is allowed for one, I believe, should be allowed for all, not for one class of people while not for another. We Americans have learned that painfully with issues of race and gender. Now we are learning it slowly concerning the Freedom to Marry. It is not a matter of whether we like the idea of Freedom to Marry. It is a matter of civil and religious rights.

“No one has ever seen God,” it says in First John 4. I take that seriously. It means that I may love God as I understand God, but there is no guarantee that anyone fully understands God. I take this as a ground for humility and willingness to listen carefully to what my neighbor has to say. In the end, I only can say what I believe with all my heart and believe to be true. In a democracy, that is all any of us can say. There are times when we must settle our differences by voting. A vote, as we know, is a way in which we can settle an issue without resorting to violence. We don’t always get our way. We may not be in the majority. We may think we are right but still lose an election. That is the way of democracy. To force a vote, or rig a vote, or steal a vote, I believe, is a sin against God and against our neighbor. If I understand anything about democracy, I believe God must love this fragile human experiment. I believe God must see the vote as a way for neighbors to disagree and still be good neighbors, to follow the path of love rather than hate, to keep peace when we are bitterly opposed on matters of sharp disagreement.

It is important in a democracy, for people to keep talking together in ways that honor (read “love”) the neighbor. “No one has ever seen God,” remember. We may learn something from conversation. That is what public conversation is about. That’s what government lecterns and journalism and pulpits are about. We should hold these precious public forums in reverence and protect them. They are all we have. To misuse them, or use them lightly or maliciously is to violate the precious covenants of community. That is the end of democracy and the religious freedom it protects.

***Rev. Mikelson is a retired Unitarian minister living with his wife in Massachusetts. He is also a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality.

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TALKING TO PEOPLE OF FAITH:  A Religious Perspective on Marriage

Guest Blogger: Tim Palmer

Isn’t the Bible against it?”

A widely-held misconception is that 1) the Bible, 2) the church, or 3) God stands squarely against anything other than the one man-one woman model. The truth? The Bible does no such thing. As for those other two ideas, it depends on the faith tradition, and the God, you listen to. Here are some facts and figures to leaven a faith-based argument for marriage equality.

1) The Bible doesn’t prescribe a single model of marriage.

True, the texts recognize the union of a woman and a man as one expression of sexuality and love. But the Bible also embraces polygyny and “levirate marriage” (in which a man must procreate with his brother’s widow). The Bible even celebrates loving, sexual relationships between unmarried adults, notably in the Song of Songs.

The concept of marriage between same-sex partners was alien to ancient Near East cultures; still, the Bible portrays intense emotional attachments between women (Naomi and Ruth, in the Book of Ruth) and between men (David and Jonathan, in 1 and 2 Samuel). Looking at the Bible as a whole, the predominant message is of love and justice in all human relationships.

2) Plenty of pastors, priests and rabbis preach equality.

Several major denominations, growing numbers of dioceses and presbyteries, and thousands of individual clergy support marriage for same-sex couples. The United Church of Christ, the Central Conference of American Rabbis, the Unitarian Universalist Association, the Unity Fellowship Churches and the Reconstructionist Rabbinical Association all support marriage equality. Clergy in American Baptist, Episcopalian, Lutheran, Presbyterian and Quaker congregations already bless the unions of same-sex couples. Last fall, in advance of the Prop 8 vote in California, more than 2,200 ordained clergy from all 50 states and 50 different faith traditions signed the Religious Institute and Freedom to Marry’s Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Marriage Equality.

Neither church nor synagogue speaks with one voice on marriage, and the voices for equality grow stronger every day.

3) And God says …

Too many people, on too many issues, claim to know the mind of God. I won’t go there. I’ll simply reaffirm the words that those 2,200 clergy endorsed last fall:

From a religious perspective, marriage is about entering into a holy covenant and making a commitment with another person to share life’s joys and sorrows. In terms of these religious values, there is no difference in marriage between a man and woman, two men, or two women. As our traditions affirm, where there is love the sacred is in our midst.”

Timothy Palmer is Director of Research and Communications for the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice and Healing. He recently graduated with a Master of Divinity degree from Union Theological Seminary in the city of New York.

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Same-sex couples to rally for marriage rights

Associated Press
February 12, 2009
Thousands of gay couples nationwide will apply for marriage licenses this Thursday to protest lack of marriage equality in all but two states in observance of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week. [Link]

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TALKING TO PEOPLE OF FAITH: Black Theologian Argues for Equality

Guest Blogger: Rev. Randall Bailey

Three events have profoundly impacted my view of Same Gender Marriage. My late brother, Mark Aaron, who died in 1991 after a three year struggle with HIV/AIDS, was involved in varied relationships. One of the more positive relationships was with Bobby, who was a waiter at an upscale restaurant in Atlanta. Bobby and Mark became a budding couple and were together at all family gatherings. We were all pleased at the development in Mark’s life, especially as it signaled positive changes in his own behavior and his own feeling good about himself. On Thanksgiving Day 1986 Bobby proposed to Mark at the dinner table presenting him with an engagement ring. Mouths fell open. Some protested that this was going too far. I remember sitting there thinking to myself, “This is weird, but it does seem to be the logical next step in their relationship. Maybe we should give it some support.” When I voiced these sentiments I was talked down. Their relationship ended soon thereafter. I wonder sometimes how that relationship would have developed over time, had the family been more open.

In November of 1989 at the American Academy of Religion there was a Womanist Panel which debated whether the Lesbians should be put out of the movement, since such behavior was against the Bible. (Womanism is a Christian theological system which begins with the experiences of Black Women as a major source for theological speculation.) There was much support for the proposal. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon, the first Black woman to be ordained in the Presbyterian Church and the first Black woman from the US to receive a PhD in Ethics took the microphone. She stated that Womanists negatively critique Feminists for only dealing with gender and not also dealing with race and class and thereby show Feminists not to be liberationists. She then stated that were Womanists to adopt heterosexism (a term I had never before heard), they would be giving up the claim to being liberationists, since they would be embracing an oppressive ideology which would say only those who are and practice heterosexuality are to be considered normative and acceptable. It hit me at that moment that this was clearly a justice issue and I would have to rethink my own thoughts on the subject.

In 1995 I delivered a plenary lecture to the Racial and Ethnic Minority Conference of the Association of Pastoral Care. In that lecture I was advocating for our going beyond oppressive elements in the Christian tradition and in the biblical text. I addressed racism, sexism, classism, ethnocentrism, and heterosexism. One of the attendees took me to task on my final point, reminding me that “God made Adam and Eve and not Adam and Steve” and charged me with bringing havoc to the Black community with my views. I asked, “Then who made Steve, if not God?” I then argued that the patriarchal stances in Genesis 2 should not be embraced, especially around issues of procreation as the primary reason for marriage and sexual activity. Since the questioner looked to be about my age, mid-fifties, I then advanced that were she to adhere to her interpretation of Genesis, then she would agree that post-menopausal women should cease from sexual activity, since they could not conceive. She vehemently argued against that claim, to which I asked, over the laughter of the audience, “Then why can one group of non-procreators be allowed to marry and have sex while another group cannot?”

These three events in my life have shaped my views around Same Gender Marriage. To say that gender is the primary determiner of marriage, means that the primary function of the institution is procreation. If so, we should require sperm tests and ovary exams before issuing a Marriage License. If we in the Church deny the Institution of Marriage to those who are in same gendered relationships, we are saying that they are not fully human and cannot share their love and commitment to another in the face of community and that they are not deserving of psychological, emotional, social, economic, political, and spiritual support to face life’s challenges. In essence we would be saying that they are not made in the Image of God. We would also be saying that justice is not a key component of our theological understandings.

***Randall C. Bailey, Andrew W. Mellon Professor of Hebrew Bible at Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, GA is a member of Freedom to Marry's Voices of Equality. Dr. Bailey is married to Ms. D. Jean Lewis Bailey, formerly of Memphis, TN, and they have two young adult children.


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Celebrate Freedom to Marry Week This Week!

Join us in celebration of the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week this week, February 8-14, 2009. People across the country have pledged to take part in any of our 7 Conversations in 7 Days during the week to move equality forward across the country, and it’s not too late: join in today!

To kick off blogging on Straight Talk on Marriage, Evan Wolfson wrote, "Conversations with the circles of people around us are the prerequisite to winning, the key to helping them push past their discomfort, complacency, or indifference to becoming supportive of our equality."
Having conversations is the single most important action you can take towards achieving marriage equality nationwide. Check our blog all week for special guest bloggers!

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TALKING TO FRIENDS: Marriage Changes Priorities

Guest Blogger: Thalia Zepatos

As I travel around the country organizing and speaking out on LGBT rights –especially equal marriage rights for same-sex couples -- people often ask me how I developed a passion for this work. I had been a straight ally in the fight against discrimination for years, but didn't especially feel that "marriage was the issue" I wanted to focus on.

Then something really surprising happened: I feel in love with Mike. We met in our forties, and, frankly, I never really expected it to happen. We spent our first year falling in love, laughing and delighting one other, introducing each other into our already full lives filled with family and friends. I knew that I was a goner when I—a former travel writer and inveterate traveler—went to Vietnam for three weeks and seriously considered coming home early to see Mike before the trip was over.

Eventually we moved in together and started to make plans for the future. Our parents prodded us gently, and sometimes not so gently-- when we would we get married? What were we waiting for?

We talked about marriage as one way to demonstrate our commitment, and knew that it provided valuable protections that would help us to care for one another through life's challenges. There was just one thing holding us back—it seemed so unfair to our gay and lesbian friends, especially the couples we were so close to.

We'd had more than one conversation with gay couples who'd attended straight weddings and found them to be deeply upsetting. Over and again, they'd show up to celebrate the "day full of joy" for a relative or friend—each part of the tradition a bitter reminder that their own relationship may never get see that day full of photos and flowers, or the lifetime of social support and legal protections that follow.

None of our friends ever suggested we not get married. But Mike and I were reluctant to take advantage of a right that was denied to so many others. It felt like we would be joining a club that excluded them from even walking through the door—and at the same time asking them to come and applaud our crossing that threshold, and maybe bring a gift along, too!

We discussed it periodically and put off the decision, hoping and working to change those unjust laws. After several years together we found ourselves facing heartbreaking challenges within our own families—we learned that both Mike's mom and my Dad were terminally ill. We had delayed getting married, and now we realized that we were running out of time. We wanted our parents to celebrate with us, while they still could.

We hastily made plans for a small wedding in Mexico, followed by a larger reception at home in Portland. Mike's mom would wear a wig to cover the hair lost to chemo. My Dad, with advancing Alzheimer's disease, could still travel and enjoy the celebration, although my Mom would have to take special care of him.

We felt there was only one way to resolve our dilemma. During our wedding reception, Mike and I stood before our community and took one additional vow: to do everything within our power to fight for the freedom to marry for all those who are denied that chance.

Our wedding bonded us as family in a way that nothing else could do. It gave us a chance to celebrate—and share—the love we find in one another. Today we go on, motivated by the fact that no one should be denied a chance to share that same joy. And we do whatever we can—wherever we can—to fight on the side of love.

Thalia Zepatos, Political Consultant

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TALKING TO FRIENDS: UnMasking, Asking & Tasking

Guest Blogger: Jennifer Brown

It was mid summer in the mid-1980’s shortly after I graduated from law school, and I was driving to what might have been the 3rd or 4th wedding of the summer. My best friend from law school (I’ll call her Arlene), had flown into town (yet again) to attend. As Arlene and I drove from the ceremony to the reception, she haltingly expressed her mixed feelings. “I’m happy for David and Sarah,” she began, “but I have to admit that all these weddings make me a little sad…they remind me that even though Donna and I have been together for 7 years, no one is celebrating us as a couple – and no one is going to. My law school friends don’t even include her on the invitations.” I glanced over and saw that she was crying, and in an instant I gained some measure of understanding about how the world of commitment, weddings, and public affirmation of couples looked from her perspective. The law did not treat all of my friends equally. The bitterness of discrimination diminished the sweetness of that day. I count this moment as a turning point in my growth as an ally and advocate for marriage equality.

In that conversation, Arlene bestowed upon me a wonderful gift: insight. And that insight has helped to fuel my work for LGBT equality. Conversations can do that. That’s why, during Freedom to Marry week (which begins today!), you should make it a goal to have at least one conversation each day about marriage equality. Every day this week, people will share their ideas about how you can talk to friends, family members, legislators, and others about marriage. Today I want to focus on the conversations you have with friends.

There are three simple steps to talking with friends about marriage: 1) remove the mask, 2) make the ask, and 3) assign a task.

Remove the Mask

Share your story. Make it personal, authentic, and heartfelt. This is what Arlene did for me, and what I attempted to do at the beginning of this post. In a sense, Arlene was wearing a mask, concealing her hurt and ambivalence, suppressing the longing she felt to celebrate her love for Donna with her friends and family. She’d put on a happy face out of love for her friends David and Sarah, but for a few minutes in the car, she let the mask slip away. I learned something deep and abiding because she had the courage and the trust to show me the truth. Similarly, whatever your sexual orientation or marital status, when you tell a friend how you feel about marriage (particularly regarding the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage), you may completely transform your friend’s understanding.

Just a few weeks ago, another dear friend of mine (who is not gay and is a Christian) found herself in conversation with a fellow parishioner who seemed to assume that my friend shared his negative view of marriage for same sex couples. As if the conversation were happening in slow motion, my friend could almost hear the seconds ticking away as an internal debate began: “I have to tell him I disagree.” “But what if I screw it up and just end up alienating him? That’s happened to me before.” “He clearly assumes that I agree with him, and I don’t.” “But he’s such a sweet guy; what if I hurt his feelings?” “Am I articulate enough and clear enough about my views to tell him the truth?”

I am incredibly proud to tell you that my friend resolved this inner debate by sharing her true feelings with her pastor. She explained that in her view, marriage equality is no more than simple fairness. She told him about the many gay and nongay Christians she knows who find marriage equality entirely consistent with their faith. She also described some of the families she has known headed by gay and lesbian parents, urging her fellow parishioner to see that these families deserve the rights and responsibilities of marriage just as much as her nongay friends do. Her fellow parishioner was surprised – but he listened. My friend doesn’t expect that she persuaded him to change his mind, but her hope is that she may have planted a seed that will later bloom into understanding. And at the very least, she was authentic. She removed the mask.

Make the Ask

These days, it is not enough to share your story. Especially after your friends have heard about how important marriage equality is to you, they may want to help. You must seize the opportunity to make a new ally by asking them to get involved. People like to be asked. Especially if your friends are not members of the gay community, or if they have been uninvolved in work for LGBT equality, they may wonder if there is a place for them. Nongay friend may feel that it is somehow presumptuous for them to get involved in “gay politics.” They may feel embarrassed if they are married, even guilty for having enjoyed a right that is invidiously denied to others. If you ask them to get involved in marriage equality work, you will invite them and thereby make it easier for them to take the next step.

Assign a Task

If your friend has been moved by your story and has expressed a willingness to work for marriage equality, then you can suggest a specific, concrete action by which they can demonstrate their support. Many people support marriage for same-sex couples, but they just don’t know what to do to be of help. Suggest one good web site and ask them to visit it this week. Give them the name of one legislator they could write in support of marriage equality. If a local or state wide organization is organizing a demonstration, lobbying day, or other event, ask your friend to accompany you to it. But don’t let the conversation end before you ask your friend to take one concrete step in support of marriage. If they follow through and take this action, they will feel great, and as they see their views reflected in their actions, their commitment to the cause will grow.

Jennifer Gerarda Brown is a member of the Steering Committee for Freedom to Marry. She is also Professor of Law and the Director of the Center on Dispute Resolution at Quinnipiac University School of Law, and the Charles Mechem Senior Research Scholar and Director of ADR Programs at Yale Law School.

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TALKING: The 12th Annual Freedom to Marry Week Begins Today

Chief Blogger: Evan Wolfson

Today marks the first day of the 12th Annual Freedom to Marry Week. Across the nation, there are activities being planned in churches, homes, schools, businesses, government offices and community spaces. For more information, visit the link. It’s a time to recommit ourselves to talking about why it is important to end this discrimination and what each person can do about it.

Over the next six days, we’ve asked some very special people to share their voices about equality in marriage today. They include leaders from faith communities, labor, academia, gay rights. They are mothers and fathers, grandparents and children, husbands and wives -- all lifting their voices for the freedom to marry.

Conversations with the circles of people around us are the prerequisite to winning, the key to helping them push past their discomfort, complacency, or indifference to becoming supportive of our equality. We can't assume that just because people like us or are pro-gay (or even gay), they get it. It's our job to connect the dots. That means making a personal ask, talking about our actual lives, and explaining how the denial of marriage affects us day to day and in times of crisis.

So why does marriage matter to me? Well, as I wrote five years ago in my book, Why Marriage Matters, this is about "Love. Commitment. Fairness. Freedom. It’s hard to think of values that matter more to most of us—as human beings, as family members, or as Americans. They are values central to most people’s definition of the right to marry, the values at the heart of the ongoing national conversation about ending the exclusion of same-sex couples from marriage."

We hope you will join us throughout the week – and, most importantly, do your part, as the best ambassador there can be for the people in your life who know and care about you. See who’s speaking out for marriage equality each day and share your comments. We want to hear everyone’s voice, because only together will we achieve the freedom to marry for all.

Let's make 2009 a year of tremendous progress!

Evan Wolfson, executive director of Freedom to Marry and author of "Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People's Right to Marry" is also the founder of Freedom to Marry Week.

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2 Days Left Until Freedom to Marry Week Begins!

February 6, 2009
Have you made your plans to get involved during the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week, February 8-14, by having any of our 7 Conversations in 7 Days?

If you haven't yet, go here and take any of the following actions:

1) Tell us how conversations are going by commenting on our blog or Facebook event page
2) Visit our YouTube group to participate in the video contest and win cash prizes
3) Prepare a blog post or social network status update for Monday, February 9th
4) If you've already signed up for a free button, send us pictures
5) Tell your friends, co-workers, and family about Freedom to Marry Week, and to join us in action.

Thank you again for participating!

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3 Days Left Until Freedom to Marry Week

February 5, 2009
Have you made your plans to get involved during the 12th annual Freedom to Marry Week, February 8-14, by having any of our 7 Conversations in 7 Days

If you haven't yet, go here and take any of the following actions:

1)Tell us how conversations are going by commenting on our blog or Facebook event page
2)Visit our YouTube group to participate in the video contest and win cash prizes
3)Prepare a blog post or social network status update for Monday, February 9th
4)If you've already signed up for a free button, send us pictures
5)Tell your friends, co-workers, and family about Freedom to Marry Week, and to join us in action.

Thank you again for participating!

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