Friday, June 26, 2015

No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. –Justice Anthony Kennedy in the majority opinion granting marriage equality.

My heart is full this morning as I celebrate the Supreme Court’s decision on marriage equality. I confess: it has struck me more profoundly than I thought it would; I can’t seem to stop the tears of joy from spilling over. HISTORY IS MADE!! I posted on my facebook wall, and indeed it has been. Two years ago, on this same date, when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of equality, overturning California’s discriminatory Proposition 8 and recognizing the validity of the marriage between Edith Windsor and Thea Spyer in The United States vs WindsorI said these words at a rally held in Colorado Springs:
We are here today to celebrate a victory that has been decades in the making.
When Harry Hay founded the Mattachine Society in 1950 as an international fraternal order of gay men to protect and improve the rights of homosexuals, we began planning this party. When the Daughters of Bilitis formed in 1955 in San Francisco as the first lesbian civial and political organization, we started choosing the invitations. When the first commitment ceremony performed by a Unitarian Universalist minister for a same gender couple was reportedly done in the late 1950s, we began to get an idea that this party was going to be big.
In 1963 , when Bayard Rustin, organized the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, as an openly gay man with full support from Dr. King, we started thinking about who would get those invitations.
In 1968 when Troy Perry– whose name is on the Prop 8 case, as one of the plaintiffs, along with his husband Philip De Bliek--when Troy Perry founded Metropolitan Community Church, as a queer Christian church, we started thinking about the entertainment.
In 1969, during the Stonewall Uprising, on June 28 , drag queens and butch lesbians and transgender folk got started on the party a little early when somebody called the cops.
In 1970 when the Unitarian Universalist Association passed a resolution urging support for the glbtq community and in 1972 when the United Church of Christ ordained their first openly gay minister, Bill Johnson, we got a few more details for this party.
And so it has been, through the years, that we have been preparing for this moment. If not us, personally, than our forebears who went before, who courageously paved the way, who dared to speak love’s name loud and proud, who would not sit down and shut up, no matter who told them to.
And so we stand here today, celebrating a great victory: The recognition by the Supreme Court that marriage cannot be separate but equal; that all marriages should be treated equally under the law.
Of course, the struggle continues, but the dominoes of injustice and inequity are falling, my friends, their precarious rigid black and white pattern is being replaced by the beautiful, powerful, rainbow-hued colors of freedom and equality.
So we’re throwing this party tonight. In fact, let's just call it a wedding reception. And we are celebrating but we are not stopping our march toward full freedom and equity under the law. And we won’t stop until it is achieved.
Theodore Parker, 19th c Unitarian minister, wrote this:
"Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe, the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways. I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. But from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice."
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used this phrase to give him hope in the Civil Rights movement. May these words give us hope today as we rejoice in the victories we have won and look to the long arc still ahead, confident it bends always towards justice.” 

On that same day, Minnesota outgoing Congresswoman Michele Bachmann had this to say on SCOTUS overturning DOMA: “Marriage was created by the hand of God. No man, not even a Supreme Court, can undo what a holy God has instituted.”
I couldn’t help but think how similar her words sounded to the words spoken in 1958 by Trial judge Leon Bazile in the original trial of Richard and Mildred Loving, arrested for violating the Virginia Racial Integrity Act of 1924:
“Almighty God created the races white, black, yellow, malay and red, and he placed them on separate continents. And but for the interference with his arrangement there would be no cause for such marriages. The fact that he separated the races shows that he did not intend for the races to mix.” 

I thought then of what a long, Sisyphean task it must have appeared to be, to seek the right for people of different races to be able to marry with all the love and dignity afforded same race couples. Yet love persevered, hope kept going, and justice was won. Now, as Justice Kennedy said—using this word nine times in his opinion—gay and lesbian couples are finally afforded the dignity of legal marriage should they so desire. History is made! Even as recently as 10 years ago, I said with full optimism, “Marriage equality will happen—probably not in my lifetime—but it will happen.” There is no way in the world I could have foreseen how swiftly the tide of justice would roll over the land; there is no way in the world I could have foreseen this momentous day happening just 46 years after the Stonewall riot which heralded the beginning of the Queer rights movement, and exactly 12 years following the SCOTUS decision on Lawrence v. Texas. That decision, on June 26, 2003, which declared that sodomy laws in the U.S. are unconstitutional." Overturning the Texas "Homosexual Conduct" law which made it illegal for two people of the same gender to have oral or anal sex (which was already legal if with someone of another gender) was instrumental in making this day a reality. June 26 is a good day, indeed! I can't help but look back over my 21 years here in Colorado Springs and how hard we, as a community, have fought for this right. I can’t even count how many times we had a demonstration at the downtown office of the County Clerk; all these gay and lesbian couples lining up to apply for a marriage license, $20 (then $30) and driver's license in hand, only to be turned down by the (apologetic) workers who had to inform them, that, according to Colorado  law, marriage was only between one man and one woman. And then, how Ryan Acker (then the Executive Director of the Pride Center) and I would step forward, a lesbian and a gay man, who had never even gone out on a single date together, with cash in hand, and our driver's license at the ready to prove our identification; the two of us, who weren't even a couple (though I told everyone he was registered at Bed, Bath, and Beyond, and I was registered at Home Depot); the two of us, achingly single in reality, yet we could step up and by virtue of the gender listed on our drivers license, we could get a marriage license. We could step right past those gay and lesbian couples, some of them together for decades, and get what was denied them, on the basis of whether or not we peed standing up. How many marriage licenses did we get? Five, ten? And all of them unsigned, a dusty testament to the abuses of a legal system that did not require evidence of love, commitment, trust, only an F and M in the appropriate boxes. 
Today, our fake relationship is trumped by true love, today the law of the land honors the love of all couples. 
Today, I cry tears of joy for the journey it has taken to get us, for the future queer children who will see their love fully represented legally and in society, for those whom we lost before this victory was granted, to despair and shame. 
Today, even though I am perennially always the officiant, never the bride, I understand what it feels like to be fully recognized as a citizen of this country, with all the rights accorded therein. 
Today I have been seen, because, to paraphrase Justice Kennedy’s words, we have asked for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants us that right. In my lifetime. In yours. Let the party begin!

Bottom of Form

Sunday, June 21, 2015

I Need You; You Need Me

Last night I attended a prayer vigil for the victims and families of the Charleston church shooting. It was held at their sister church, Payne Chapel AME Church in Colorado Springs. The house was packed; every seat was taken, with some folks standing along the back walls. It was a simple service, beginning with a Prayer of Forgiveness, followed by the choir singing of God’s mercy and grace, then a Prayer for Healing, then two sections titled, simply, Expressions, interspersed with Gospel music, and finally, ending with a Prayer for Hope.
During these two parts of Expressions, the leaders of the service spoke and then invited other ministers, church leaders, community leaders to come forward and speak as well.
I hadn’t planned on speaking, I was casually dressed, but I felt like I was answering an altar call to go up and testify; so I did. I introduced myself as the minister at All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church and then said something along these lines (it was extemporaneous, so I’m sure I’m not getting it 100% right :)
“I’m on sabbatical this summer. Unfortunately, violence doesn’t take sabbaticals; racism doesn’t take sabbaticals; hatred never takes a break. There is never a day when they shutter their windows and put a closed sign on their front door.
But here’s the other thing: Forgiveness never takes a sabbatical, either. Love never takes a sabbatical. Grace is always hanging around.
That is why I’m so honored to be here with all of you tonight. That is what we’re experiencing here tonight. And it is what the congregation of Emanuel AME Church in Charleston is experiencing tonight, even in the midst of their pain and anguish. Emanuel AME has a rich tradition of speaking and acting out for justice and being attacked and destroyed for it; they have always risen from the ashes of despair and they will do so this time, as well
And I want to pledge to you tonight that All Souls Unitarian Universalist Church will never take a sabbatical when it comes to standing with you in the struggle; we will stand shoulder to shoulder with you; we will be your allies in the face of hate and violence; we will not grow weary in the work of love.”
I sat down then, and others spoke. As I looked at the crowd of people gathered, as I listened to the choir sing, “God is good all the time; all the time, God is good,” I felt such a profound sense of solidarity, of community. There we were, people of all races, ages, faith traditions trying to make some sense of another senseless tragedy, and yet, it was not despair or defeat or the pervasive sadness I wrote about yesterday, that filled the chapel last night; it was, indeed, the never-resting spirit of forgiveness and grace and love.  We joined together, hundreds of people, to say, we are not broken down, we are lifted up in our faith—whether in God, or Love, or the Power of Humanity to one day rise above, and we will not let the hatred of this world ever overshadow the Love that sets us free, that calls us into wholeness, that gives birth to grace and forgiveness and hope.
At the end of the service, the choir sang one last song, before Rev. Arthur B. Carter, Jr., the minister of Payne Chapel AME sent us off with words of hope. The praise and worship song, written by Hezekiah Walker, summed up perfectly, the simple truth of our lives, the interdependent nature of this web of existence, of which we are a part, and the solid truth that we need each other.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll reflect on forgiveness, grace, love. For now, I’ll leave you with this:

(The audio for this was recorded live from the Prayer Vigil in Colorado Springs. For a clean version of the song, check out this link)

Friday, June 19, 2015


I want to say I’m outraged, shocked, appalled. I want to say I don’t understand how something so tragic, so—if you’ll pardon the expression—evil could happen in 2015, in the United States, in one of the most developed countries in the world. I want to shake my fists at this young man who took the lives of nine people and forever altered the lives of those who knew and loved them and cry out, why?
But unfortunately, that’s not true. That’s not what I’m feeling; I feel deep sadness rather than molten outrage, the Novocain-like numbness that comes only from repeated witnessing of innocent people gunned down, of racially motivated terrorism white-washed—at least when the killer is white and the victims are black—and a sense of despair of us ever getting it right as a nation.

Why? Hell, I know why. At least in part. I don’t know all of the sad story of 21 year old Dylann Roof, who has confessed to the murder of the nine church-goers, shot down in cold blood as they met in a prayer meeting and Bible study but I do know that he has fit himself neatly into a template of violence that has become so familiar, we can just save the stories and change the name and location of the incident.

Why? Because we, as a nation, refuse to enter into any serious conversation about racial violence done in this country.  We allow white police officers and white vigilantes and even white guys driving a truck to say they felt threatened by black men as their single defense for their use of deadly force.  We want to say that we are post-racism, since we have a president who is half black while glazing over the incredibly offensive overt racist remarks and responses to President Obama from our own citizens.  There has never been a US president as openly ridiculed and reviled as him, even though his performance in office has been stellar in terms of the work he’s managed to get done while dealing with these attitudes.
Racism is so pervasive, so embedded in American culture that, as Jon Stewart so brilliantly and somberly pointed out in his opening monologue  on The Daily Show  last night, black citizens of Charleston drive down streets that are named for confederate generals that fought for the ability to deny black citizens the freedom to drive down those streets.
This is nothing less than an act of domestic terrorism. When Dylann Roof opened fire on a group of black people who were in no way threatening him, he did so out of a self-admitted desire of provoking some new, racially motivated, civil war. As Jon Stewart also asserted in his monologue, we seem to have no problem doing whatever it takes to protect our country from acts of terrorist aggression from foreign elements—we attacked two countries, spent trillions of dollars and thousands of lives to do so—but when it comes to an American committing an act of terrorism, we shrug our shoulders and say, “what can you do? Crazy guy.”
Why?  Because we, as a nation, have turned our backs and shut our pocket book to the mentally ill in our country. According to a  USA Today article from 2014, States cut $5 billion in mental health services from 2009 to 2012. In the same period, the country eliminated at least 4,500 public psychiatric hospital beds — nearly 10% of the total supply. As a result, nearly 40% of adults with
severe mental illness received no treatment at all in the previous year. Compare that to the money earmarked for military spending in this fiscal year which is a whopping $598 billion—over half of the money budgeted for discretionary spending. And while that number is huge, it neglects to show the cuts for Veterans benefits that our congress has voted in, even in the face of increasing mental illness among veterans returning from war zones; 22 veterans kill themselves every day, with many of them having fallen through the cracks of a system that glorifies the war and will pay a high cost for it, while neglecting the emotional toll it takes on those who serve. 
Dylann Roof is not a veteran but it would come as no surprise to me to learn that he suffers from mental illness, as do James Holmesof the Aurora shootings and Adam Lanza, the Sandyhook shooter.
Why? Because we, as a nation, refuse to deal with the rampant pandemic of gun violence in our country.  Once again, a gun, so easily obtained, was the weapon of choice. This is another conversation folks don’t want to have.  Today, as I write this, the prosecution rested its case in the trial of James Holmes, the young white man who shot up a movie theater in Aurora, CO, killing 12 and injuring 70. Their final witness was Ashely Moser, who was 25 at the time of the attack. She described how she took her seven year old daughter, Veronica, to see the movie “The Dark Knight Rises” to celebrate the news she had received earlier in the day: she was expecting another child. She lost her daughter, her unborn baby, and her own mobility that day; she was paralyzed by the bullet that ripped through her body as James Holmes unleashed a barrage of ammunition from the four guns—semiautomatic and pump action—that he was able to purchase legally from four different stores.

And, already NRA leaders and nervous politicians are spewing forth the well-worn trope that guns don’t kill people and that now is not the time to be political, but to focus on grieving the victims and supporting their loved ones.
South Carolina governor, Nikki Haley, a long time gun advocate, said as much in this statement
One NRA board member, Charles Cotton, even blamed one of the victims, church minister and state legislator Clementa Pinckney, referring to his stance on control, saying, And he voted against concealed-carry. Eight of his church members who might be alive if he had expressly allowed members to carry handguns in church are dead. Innocent people died because of his position on a political issue.
The NRA has issued similar statements following the tragic killings at Sandyhook and in Aurora, even though an FBI report released last year shows that unarmed private citizens were three times more likely to subdue an active shooter than a citizen who is armed.

I said, in the wake of the Sandy hook shootings, that now is exactly the time we need to be having a conversation about gun violence and gun control; that there is no greater way to honor the horrific losses to gun violence than to enact laws that protect the 2nd amendment but not at the expense of innocent lives lost. The authors of the 2nd amendment had no concept of semi-automatic and automatic weapons; they had no idea of the violence that could be wrought in a 10 second burst of gunfire. They were addressing the right of people to bear arms, not stockpile enough military grade weapons for their own private war. When people declare their second amendment right to own an uzi they pervert the meaning of it.  

Why? Maybe because we as a nation have become so anesthetized to gun violence that we prefer to get our dander up over which Kardashian is dating who, and the prime time premier of Caitlyn Jenner, and an activist who has been discovered to be living a racial lie. We get worked up over, and pass great judgment on the details of those living in public life while every day, people are killing other people in manners which could have been avoided.

 And so now we gather, we grieve, we hold one another close; we will light candles, and hold vigils and say prayers; but here’s what remains the same: the Confederate flag still flies proudly, at full mast, over the state capitol of South Carolina, this shooting will get its 15 minutes of infamy and then be buried under an avalanche of celebrity mischief, sports hi-jinks, and the next deadly shooting.
It’s enough to take the wind out of anyone’s sails. It’s why I feel more sadness than outrage. It’s why this will happen again. And again.
And yet here is where the light shines through, here is what also remains the same: the good people of Emanual AME will rise again, they have already faced their killer via video feed and shared what they lost, even while forgiving him. Emanuel has a long history of social justice and activism leading to its racially motivated violence and destruction, and yet rising again and again out of the ashes of history to remain a shining light of justice and equity, good people of conscience will gather and disperse, blow out our candles and place them in the basket as we leave the vigils, but the embers of justice in our hearts will have been fanned into the flames of commitment and activism to make this a better world. There is a tipping point that we are approaching, my friends, a tipping point of sadness that will be alchemically transformed into the passionate outrage that can fuel a revolution; a revolution that can topple politicians who are more concerned about the money they get from the gun lobby than protecting the lives of their constituency, a revolution that will see a true dismantling of the racist attitudes and permissiveness  that allows a flag to wave over a state capitol that represents the worst of our history. Here is what also remains the same: in my sadness, in my despair at the exhausting sameness of these tragedies, I will not give up, I will not give in, I will not grow weary in the work of love.
There is more I could say but I’m off now, to attend a vigil here in Colorado Springs, at an AME church, where we will gather, we will grieve, we will hold one another close. And then we’ll leave with the light of conviction blazing in our hearts. Maybe I will see you there.