For millions of Christians today is Maundy Thursday. We will pause this evening to remember the final meal that Jesus shared with his disciples before his arrest and execution on the morrow. At least according to the Gospel of John, standing at the center of this feast (in John this is a pre-Passover meal not a Passover meal) is the command to love one another. I’d like to pick up on that command – that mandate (Maundy is an anglicized form of the Latin for mandate) and connect it with the important conversation occurring in this nation this week.
The U.S. Supreme Court has heard two key cases this week. The first concerned the constitutionality of California’s Prop 8. Being from California, I have a sense of the political process in that state. Back in November of 2008, as part of the national election cycle, Californians voted by a narrow majority to overturn a state Supreme Court ruling that overturned a ban on gay marriage. Prop 8 was later declared invalid by a Federal Appeals Court, and the U.S. Supreme Court is being asked to resolve this standoff. At this point it appears that the Court may dismiss the case, leaving the lower court ruling in place, thus allowing gay marriages to resume in California, but not affecting the status elsewhere.
The second case will decide whether the Federal Defense of Marriage Act passes constitutional muster. This statute, which the Justice Department and Obama Administration have chosen not to defend, prevents any federal rights and benefits to be accorded to any gay or lesbian marriage relationship, even if a state has deemed them legal. From the questioning yesterday, it would appear that there are at least five votes to strike down DOMA. This would mean that the federal government must treat persons legally married, whether gay or straight equally before the law. This ruling won’t affect state law, but it might begin to pave the way for more change across the country, as people recognize the disparity that exists between civil unions and marriage. We’re seeing political figures, especially within the Democratic Party coming out in support of marriage equality.
So what does this have to do with Maundy Thursday? I’ve not posted anything as of yet on the issues before the court. But now that the cases have been heard, the arguments made, I thought it worth my time to comment. I want to couch me statements in the command to love. Though stated differently from John, Jesus is on record calling on us to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. If my neighbor, or in my case my brother, is gay how do I love that person as I love myself. What would I want for them that I want for myself?
In regards to marriage equality, I’ve concluded that my gay and lesbian friends should have the same recognition, rights, and blessings that I’ve enjoyed these past thirty years of marriage. I can see no harm coming to my marriage as a result of extending the blessings of marriage to gays and lesbians. Indeed, it would help solidify families – adoptions could be recognized on the part of families rather than individuals. Children could have the legal benefit of knowing that their parents have society’s full recognition – bolstering their own sense of identity. In times of sickness and death, a partner is recognized as closest kin. How horrid it would be for me or Cheryl if one or the other was not allowed to be at the side of one’s loved one.
Chief Justice John Roberts, during Tuesday’s debates, suggested that what the opponents of Prop 8 wanted in their call for recognition of full marriage equality was a change of label. What the Chief Justice didn’t seem to understand was that this label carries a lot of weight. Even if Civil Unions were raised to the same level as marriage, in the eyes of the populace they are not the same. As Justice Ginsburg pointed out they are skim milk as opposed to whole milk. The label matters – to children and families.
In the name of love, a love that seeks the best for one’s neighbor, I stand in support of marriage equality. I believe it’s the right thing to do, and I believe it is in accord with the spirit of my Christian faith. Yes, there are biblical texts that appear to oppose homosexual relationships. But Jesus was not averse to challenging traditional views in the name of love and of justice. I believe that what we are seeing today is a move of the Spirit. As the voice from heaven tells Peter: “What God has made clean you must not call profane” (Acts 10:15). We are, I believe, at just such a moment in time. God has, in my estimation, called for us to bless what God appears to be blessing – the union of loving and committed same-sex couples.