I started writing my next post (above) thinking that I haven't been thinking much about being a lesbian for a decade or more ... and then I remembered this. I guess I haven't had so much FUN thinking about being a lesbian in a decade as I'm having now, but certainly the raging homophobia of the Bush years had me thinking a lot about my lesbianism just a couple of years ago. It's refreshing to feel the climate change so much and so quickly; I certainly never thought, when I shared this piece during worship at Old First in the spring of 2006, that I would be married (though not recognized in Pennsylvania) in three short years. This was written in a much less hopeful time, when the Pennsylvania legislature was considering an amendment to the Pennsylvania constitution to exclude same sex marriage, an amendment I am pleased to report was never passed. Still, it's good to remember what that time felt like.
I was in the car recently listening to Radio Times and heard Kenji Yoshino, a gay professor at Yale Law School, discussing his new book about gay civil rights. Yoshino was telling the story of an encounter with his father who lovingly embraced his son with the words “You are my son,” during a difficult time in Yoshino’s life when he was beginning to question his sexuality. Knowing that his father loved him in that sort of unconditional way allowed him to come to terms with the fact that he was a gay man. Commenting on that encounter, Yoshino said that “love is a sort of narrative permission that allows certain stories to be told within its bounds which could not otherwise be told.” I was so struck by this thought that I kept repeating it over and over until I got home and wrote it down. “Love is a sort of narrative permission that allows certain stories to be told within its bounds which could not otherwise be told.” I think that the community we have created here at Old First is one in which the love at the heart of our Christian faith allows us to tell all sorts of stories we might not otherwise be able to tell.
I think that, like love, the law also is also a sort of narrative permission that allows certain stories to be told. Often those stories are very affirming, but unfortunately, they aren’t always. One of the stories for which the law creates a narrative framework is the story of marriage and family: the law tells us that certain sorts of marriages and families are “real” and “legitimate” and worthy of celebration, and others are ominously dangerous imposters. Of course, we at Old First know better, because God’s love is what guides our story-telling, but none of us at Old First is immune from the effects of this other story that is constantly being told by and through the law. I would like to share with you how that other story has affected me and my family.
As you all know by now, the Pennsylvania legislature is considering an amendment to the Pennsylvania that would only recognize marriage between a man and a woman, and that would prohibit the Commonwealth from conferring any legal status on unmarried couples. This proposed amendment has to be understood in a much wider context of similar legislation and amendments, beginning with DOMA, the federal so-called Defense of Marriage Act, followed by mini-DOMA’s in many states, and then a proposed “Federal Marriage Amendment” to the federal constitution, and most recently a rash of state constitutional amendments like the one currently under consideration in Pennsylvania. To date, voters in 19 states have enacted such constitutional amendments, while 13 other states in addition to Pennsylvania are currently somewhere in the process of enacting one. Many of these amendments also contain vague language denying marriage-like benefits to unmarried couples, which may be interpreted as including domestic partnership health benefits. The state of Virginia recently enacted legislation which prohibits any contract, public or private, which would confer any of the benefits of marriage on a same-sex couple.
And as if these assaults on same-sex couples aren’t enough, now our opponents are going after our families. Currently one state, Florida, does not allow openly gay and lesbian people to adopt children, neither individually nor as a couple. Now 16 other states are considering legislation which would prohibit adoption by lesbians and gay men.
Obviously, there are concrete ways that all of this legal activity affects me and my family. If the Pennsylvania constitution is amended as proposed, Julie and I essentially lose all hope of ever legally marrying in Pennsylvania and enjoying the legal benefits of marriage. We also quite possibly could lose the domestic partnership benefits we receive through the publicly funded Philadelphia School District – the benefits that allow me to be home with our children and to do the unpaid work I have come to love.
That alone is certainly reason enough to go downstairs after worship and write a letter opposing the HB2381. But I want to try to share with you on an even deeper level what all of this means to us. I want you to imagine that every day when you open the paper, or log onto MSNBC, or turn on the radio, a drama is being played out in which you are the enemy, the villain. You, your most intimate relationships, the family you cherish, you all are dangerous. Unfit to raise children. The flashpoint rallying people of faith across the country in a way no other cause has managed to for decades. You, and your family, are a threat to the institution of marriage and to the very fabric of society. You hear this day after day after day, as the drama gets played out in an ever escalating series of legal enactments, each one more severe and punative than the last, until you have to ask yourself, when is it going to stop?
As for me, I go through a pretty constantly cycling series of emotions. Much of the time I get caught up in the minutia of my life, which is pretty wonderful, and I feel safe in the little bubble of progressive folks I have chosen to surround myself with. But there are other times when I lie awake at night and wonder when they will start trying to take our kids away from us, and whether Canada or Sweden or Holland will take us in. Now, I am the first to admit that in the light of day, these fears seem pretty extreme, and probably unfounded, and usually I just shake them off and tell myself I’m letting my overactive imagination get the best of me. But there are other moments when I remember that many of the Jews of Europe continued to tell themselves that it wasn’t really that bad, even as they were being sent away to their deaths in the camps. So, how do you know when that line gets crossed? How do you know when the fears you have for yourself and your family are no longer just overblown stories you are spinning for yourself in the dead of night, but something to be taken seriously? I don’t know, and not knowing makes me anxious.
I especially hate that I can’t protect my children from that anxiety. Recently, Trixie overheard a conversation I had after church about the many states considering banning gay men and lesbians from adopting, and in the car on the way home she asked me about it. We talked, as we have many times before, about how some people think it’s wrong for two women or two men to love each other and to be married and to raise a family. I explained that, for reasons I really don’t understand, some of these people feel so strongly that they want to prevent gay and lesbian people from adopting children. Trixie and I agreed that this view is absurd, and that especially silly is the notion that God agrees with this view, since after all, God is love, and that’s what our family is all about too. This is a conversation we have had many times before about marriage, but never about adoption. I waited while Trixie mulled it all over, and then came the obvious, inevitable question from a bright and thoughtful girl: “Mom, if they do that in Pennsylvania, do you think they will also undo adoptions that have already happened?”
“You mean like my adoption of you, or our adoptoin of Micah?” I asked.
“Yeah. They can’t say we’re not your kids, can they?”
And there you have it. That’s the story the law is currently telling my children: their family may not be secure because they have two moms who love each other. Of course, I assured Trixie that we will always keep our family safe, and that she needn’t worry. But the competing drama being played out in the law right now tells her and us a very different story.
Despite all the gloom and doom I’ve been sharing with you for the past several minutes, I’d like to end on a note of hope. Because I actually do feel startlingly hopeful these days. There is, of course, a much larger story than any of those I’ve been talking about, and that is the story of God’s love for us. Just recently, when I was feeling quite some despair about all of this, it came to me: I believe in God, and I believe that our God is a God of love. Those of you whose faith is deep and firm will find this a simple enough truth, one that I’m sure has sustained you through many difficult times. But those of you who know me well know that my own faith has mostly been plagued by doubt, so you may understand what a startling and powerful revelation that was when it gripped me recently. Yes, I believe in God, and our God is a God of love. God’s love is with me, God’s love is in my marriage, God’s love is in my family. And as Jeff reminded us last week, God’s love is with our opponents too. And God’s love will prevail. It will. And that is profoundly hopeful.
I’m not a pollyanna, though. I know that while my faith and God’s love are powerful and full of hope, they are unfortunately no talisman against bad things happening. This is a mystery I am still struggling to understand, but which I nevertheless know to be true. So, I hope you will take a stand against this gathering madness and lend your voice to the story love is telling. You can begin during the coffee hour today by writing a letter to your representative, asking him or her to oppose HB2381. If enough of us take a stand, and let our voices be heard, perhaps the law might begin to tell a different sort of story as well, the love story we here at Old First already know.
I thank you all for doing your part to make that happen.