Thursday, November 5, 2009

"We are a gentle, angry people...

... and we are singing, singing for our lives." -- Holly Near

Above: The top of my own wedding cake, June 5, 2004, in Worcester, Massachusetts.

It made me so very sad this past week when a small majority of voters in Maine voted to end marriage equality – they voted to take away the existing right that their GLBT sisters and brothers had to get married. When they voted “Yes” on 1, they said “yes” to unacceptable discrimination. They said “yes” to unequal civil rights.

It’s hard for me not to take this issue personally, of course, since if it weren’t for same sex marriage, I wouldn’t have a marriage at all. And so, I’m not just sad. I’m also angry.

And I’m losing my patience for half-way measures and strategies of compromise. I’m tired of politicians who want “civil unions” for same sex couples, but who want to reserve the word “marriage” for heterosexual couples. Yes, I understand that this is politically expedient. But separate but equal is never equal. I don’t want a separate institution for same sex couples. It’s inherently unequal, and it’s inherently immoral.

Honestly, as a lesbian, I have felt very sad ever since Proposition 8 passed in California. It’s hard to know that “the people” – the voting public – are not standing up for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender civil rights. In fact, over the years all 31 state-based ballot initiatives on same sex marriage went against it. I can’t help but feel that not only are my GLBT brothers and sisters apparently expendable in the eyes of politicians and their strategists, but also that we are apparently not worthy of equal rights in the eyes of the majority of Americans. And no, it doesn’t cheer me up that the recent vote in Maine was a close vote. It does not cheer me up that almost half the people in Maine voted against taking away civil rights. And why do we continue to put civil rights up for a popular vote? Didn’t the “Founding Fathers” – the ones we say we revere – want to protect the rights of the minority from the tyranny of the majority?

But I do have hope. For me, religion is all about connections – the connections between us and all other living things and the universe itself – and religion is about transformations. I do have hope in me today; I have hope that transformation is possible. People’s attitudes can change. People’s attitudes do change. Don’t let anyone tell you they don’t.

My own mother – who isn’t even 70 yet – grew up in Tennessee. She was a white woman who experienced the Jim Crow South first-hand. She grew up with “separate but equal” – separate water fountains, separate schools, separate seating sections in the bus, you name it. In her wildest dreams, she never would have thought a black person would be elected President of the United States in her lifetime. And the thing is, she’s not that old! Think of how much things have changed in just this one lifetime! It’s amazing, and it’s hopeful. And my mother reminded me of something else. When she was growing up, not so long ago, police routinely raided gay establishments and arrested people. Police routinely harassed gay men (who were more visible than lesbians, I suppose). She reminded me that one of her pop idols, Johnny Ray, had his career forever ruined because it was discovered that he was gay, and it was just understood that no one would ever buy a record by a known gay man. She reminded me that when she was growing up, it would have seemed incomprehensible that one day people could be openly gay and lesbian without facing constant threats and harassment and even arrest. That any state would even dream of allowing same sex marriage? – too incredible even to entertain such an idea forty or fifty years ago. Things are changing, and there is hope.

I just don’t want us to settle for scraps when we should settle for nothing less than equal rights.

But this kind of change doesn’t happen overnight, and it doesn’t happen just by waiting for it passively. As the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King said, “Change does not roll in on the wheels of inevitability, but comes through continuous struggle. And so we must straighten our backs and work for our freedom. A man can’t ride you unless your back is bent.” King is right. Change comes from our continuous struggle. It comes when we refuse to let anyone be a second class citizen, when we refuse to settle for anything less than affirming “the inherent worth and dignity of every person” (our 1st Unitarian Universalist Principle). You can make the world you want; change and transformation does happen. You’re more powerful than you know.

There’s something else King said, words that are much more famous. He said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” You better believe it. And we better live it.

One thing you can do right now to stand up for your gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers is to click on this link and sign the Petition for Full Equality, part of the UUA-sponsored “Standing on the Side of Love” campaign. Why not sign the petition right now?

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