Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Such Joy

"We are a better people than what these laws represent, and it is time to discard them into the ash heap of history." --Judge John E. Jones III, in his opinion striking down Pennsylvania's version of the Defense of Marriage Act.

These powerful words sum up a cascade of judicial decisions that will, once they have weathered the inevitable ineffective appeals, make marriage equality the law in more than half the fifty states. They could have been written for the Oregon decision, but it is perhaps more significant, more telling, that they came from the pen of a conservative Republican judge who, at the time of his nomination to the federal bench, was endorsed by Rick Santorum.

I learned of the ruling from Facebook, which was flooded with happy posts yesterday afternoon, including several versions of "Now I can finally marry my true love!" Amy, Sarah, and I were headed downtown for a heterosexual wedding celebration at Voicebox, a karaoke bar that was, we discovered, just around the corner from the official victory celebration. As we walked to our party, we saw a breathtaking diversity of people converging on the other party. Many were dressed for a wedding of their own, it appeared. After our party, heading back to our car, we again passed the celebration, where now a New Orleans-style second line band (Love Bomb Go Go, of which my trumpet student, Carter Thaxton, is a member), dressed appropriately (for Portland) in their trademark space age glitter uniforms. People were moving, waving, dancing, and coupled with the wonderful feelings we had for our friends, the joy was almost overwhelming.

I began this blog a year ago in large part as a platform for my political, philosophical, and theological opinions. I've written many times since then about marriage equality, particularly with reference to the ossified homophobia of the United Methodist Church, in which I was raised and, nineteen years ago, ordained an elder. For all the joy that has issued from this ruling, my brothers and sisters of the United Methodist clergy are still prohibited from presiding over a gay or lesbian wedding. I've offered my services to do just that, knowing that, unlike other clergy, the only thing I place at risk is a status. I have moved on to another career, and I need not fear the loss of livelihood, shelter, or future employment.

I've seen many on Facebook complain that it took Oregon much too long to come to this, that we should have been at the front of the pack, rather than lost in the middle, of the great race to full equality. This puts our None Zone state in the same company as most mainline Protestant denominations: gradually, reluctantly accepting that change must happen, dragged to it forcefully by a court ruling rather than embracing it in an election--though ruling or not, it is highly likely this November we will pass a ballot measure to finally excise this loathsome amendment from our state constitution.

I'd rather not dwell on this sort of grumbling, though. In 1993, when I first attended a conference for gay-inclusive Methodists, I heard much about the difficult struggle for equality, and the quadrennial disappointment of trying to get gay-inclusive legislation through General Conference. I remember remarking then that, with regard to civil rights for persons of color, it took court action to get the ball rolling; that people had to be forced to accept such change before they could embrace it. The friends I was making at that gathering insisted that the way to true change is the ballot box, that forcing it on people by judicial fiat could never bring true equality.

Now I see courts greasing the wheels of change and, as Emily Bazelon writes in Slate, it may come to pass that we don't need another Supreme Court decision or even any more ballot measures to bring about this change once and for all. The momentum is building. States that are still probably a generation away from approving marriage equality are having it thrust upon them by the judicial branch. Utah, Texas, even Idaho, however much they squander appealing these decisions, will soon be requiring county clerks to issue marriage licenses to same-gender couples--or be in contempt of court.

I've been a marriage doubter for many years, but I have to admit, the joy I see and hear coming from my gay friends is infectious. Who knows? I might not be done with this institution after all.

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