I’ve been trying to write the perfect blog entry in response to last week’s Supreme Court decision on Marriage equality. I’ve wanted to be pastoral and wise, poetic and inspiring, scholarly and clear. I’ve wanted to recall stories of the marriages I’ve officiated in states where marriage equality was already the law of the land, and tell you about everything that makes them so normal: the smiles, the tears, the toasts, the dancing, the vows, the rings, the venues, the food, the paperwork. I’ve wanted to show off how much I
think I know about the Bible and Constitutuional law. I’ve wanted to write something celebratory, something conciliatory to my colleagues and loved ones who are bothered by the legalization of same-sex marriage that welcomes them to an even more inclusive democracy.
But everything I’ve written has ended up in the trash. At first I thought it was my own hubris getting in the way–like I thought I could write THE blog post on marriage equality. Then I wondered if perhaps I was trying to hard to be too objective, or trying not to sound too pedantic, and just getting mixed up in my own head. (Hey, it happens.)
But then I realized that I had been ignoring something. A quiet sadness. That was what was stopping me.
While on vacation this week, my wife and I drove through Laramie, Wyoming, home of the University of Wyoming, but probably better remembered as the place where Matthew Shepard was murdered in 1998: tied to a fence post, beaten savagely, left to die.
Passing by Laramie was a sad, solemn moment for us. The Shepard murder has always been one of those touchstone events for me in how I think about the struggle for all sorts of equality. Even with the recent muckraking reports that complicate how Shepard’s life is remembered, his death was a visceral wake up call for me concerning the many, many ways LGBTQ youth become vulnerable, especially to violence. I couldn’t help but note how vast the landscape of Wyoming is, and how its small towns give way to the wilderness so quickly. It was easy—too easy–to imagine how that murder took place.
Not long after passing through Laramie, an article about County Clerks in my home state of Kentucky (including in my own hometown) refusing to sign marriage licenses for anyone following the Supreme Court’s decision. On social media, this became a hot topic for several of my high school classmates–many of whom remembered a much more accepting, affirming hometown, while others quickly recalled ways they were made to feel ashamed of their difference, whether that was because of their sexual orientation, class status, or something else. And while it was another county’s clerk who embarrassingly referred to the Supreme Court majority as “five lawyers [who] have imposed their personal view of what the marriage should be on the rest of us,” and the Montgomery County clerk has seemed to come into compliance, the stirring of such painful memories among people I once passed in school halls gave me pause.
I certainly was more of a nerd in high school than a bully, but I can remember enough to confess–a joke or two at the expense of others, made to bring attention to my own cleverness; a snide comment including the words “queer” or “faggot.” I think, in many ways, I did come to a certain level of consciousness about equality of many kinds at a pretty young age (after all, I wrote a research paper on civil disobedience as a 16 year old…like I said: NERD), but as I’ve watched friends and acquaintances come out of the closet over the years, I’ve wondered the ways my own carelessness may have further isolated a lonely, scared kid in Mt. Sterling. There were times I could’ve stood up for someone and didn’t. What was reaped of that?
The histories of lives interrupted by violence like Shepard’s was, the ways that hurt and fear run through the story of the place I come from, the ways that I still see people confusing condescension and compassion, and the way I see people prioritizing their own discomfort above the rights of citizenship of others–these are at the root of the sadness that fills in the gaps of my joy. That was what has made even trying to write this so hard.
But as a Christian minister, I am called to do more than confess my sorrow. I am called, to again paraphrase that great Kentuckian Wendell Berry, to practice resurrection.
To proclaim love and life where there is hate and fear. To give voice to vows of love and faithfulness in the face of discrimination and the silence that perpetuates it. To support relationships of mutual care, not humiliate those who seek them.
And so I do that, with deep, deep joy.
But because resurrection is about new life in the face of very real death, real violence, real devastation, I don’t set my sorrows aside–for the sake of the Matthew Shepards of the world, those who still struggle for full equality and live in the fear of violence, those who were lost to HIV/AIDS, and those that I have failed, I keep their memories close, even as I bless a marriage.
Angels in America, Tony Kushner’s opus about AIDS in the Reagan years, ends with the bittersweet blessing of a prophet facing his own mortality. It is beautiful and ambiguous. I’ve thought of it over the last few days, and while my words are far from perfect here, Kushner’s seem to be as close to perfect as any words could be at a time like this:
We won’t die secret deaths anymore. The world only spins forward. We will be citizens. The time has come. Bye now. You are fabulous creatures, each and every one. And I bless you: More Life. The Great Work Begins.
More life. So be it.