Religious Voices At The Supreme Court’s Hearings On Marriage Equality

Faith leaders from Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Native, Wiccan and other traditions convened for a multi-faith prayer at 5pm Sunday, April 26, at the National Christian Church in Washington, D.C., on the theme “Where there is Love, All Things are Possible.”

After that prayer service where we laid our hearts and prayers on a common table, I truly believed all things were possible through love.

It was my privilege to be on the planning team for the service. Both the planning and the service itself were awe-inspiring. I was surrounded by faith leaders from so many faith traditions who expressed their support for same-sex marriage. Some celebrated their own tradition’s support for equality. Others asked for forgiveness for the way their tradition still discriminated—and asked for our prayers as they continued the struggle.

The worship flowed through six expressions of the theme:

Where there is love there is welcome!

Same sex marriage should be a welcoming experience. We sang “Draw the Circle Wide.” We invited the ancestors to the amazing altar with symbols from all faith traditions candles, sage, bells. It signified what amazing things can be done when you come together in unity.

When there is love, there is truth.

Many lay leaders spoke to the need to tell the truth and to stand up for why same-sex marriage is important—the dignity of all people should be honored. Together, we sang “Believe Out Loud!” 

Where there is love, there is justice! 

Rabbi Denise Eger, newly elected as President of the largest rabbinic organization in the USA, preached that justice is about a larger picture of which marriage equality is but one piece. We cannot stop at the injustice against just one group, those who are not allowed to marry, but stand up wherever injustice is present. We must challenge injustice wherever we find it, in the name of all that is good.

Where there is love there is Reconciliation!

Rev. Cedric Harmon, Co-Director of Many Voices, reminded us that for love to prevail, we must all be reconciled. Reconciliation can mean different things for the plethora of traditions present, but we all know reconciliation when it happens and we have to be willing and open to let it happen.

Where there is love, your faith is strengthened!

Together we created a litany of affirmations from the many traditions. It felt like a story being told from different voices and traditions. Whether they were struggling or supportive, we heard their voices.

My voice as an MCC minister was a bit of a provocateur: Have we thought about people in the Bible who were same-gender loving. How might they have been treated or mistreated. Jonathan and David loved each other—but traditions dismissed their relationship like they dismiss our existence.

When we interpret the Bible more broadly we find that same-sex marriage is as ancient and traditional as love itself.

When the Bible was used to support Slavery, an expanded understanding of the main themes of the Bible strengthened our resolve to challenge injustice because of the Bible, not despite the Bible. When viewed in the traditions of love and justice, same-gender loving people become part of the fabric of faith and tradition rather than cut off. 

Perhaps we can find ourselves in the parable of the woman with the lost coin. Maybe LGBTQ people are the lost coin being rediscovered in our day. We are a tithe of humanity since we are about 10% of the population—precious in God’s sight—so precious that a womanly God would sweep her whole world in search of us.

Finally, this wonderful tapestry of Muslim, Lutheran, Pagan, Mennonite, Jewish, Methodist, Metropolitan Community Churches (MCC), United Church of Christ (UCC), Unitarian Universalists(UUA), Native American, and many other faith traditions joined together in the final section:

Where there is love, there is transformation!

I was deeply moved as we sang “Lift Every Voice,” the national anthem of African Americans—always sung while standing (if able). We sang this song at the crossroads of suffering and hope. There is no guarantee that this divided court will respect our humanity but we know we are called to go forth and be agents of change where our differences are celebrated rather than denigrated; where our unity in diversity is named rather than shamed.

We had been called and we had been transformed. We went forth and were encouraged to join the larger community at the steps of the Supreme Court with full hearts and willing spirits.

This was only the start of a series of services, witnesses, vigils, and processions where dozens of faith representatives participated. From 7pm Monday to 7am Tuesday morning, people of faith were on the steps of the Supreme Court building praying for justice to be done—for all of our families to be respected—for dignity and equality to be the prevailing values that moved the justices.

On Tuesday morning, religious leaders met on the steps of the Lutheran Church of the Reformation at 8:30am. We processed to the Courthouse, just a few blocks away singing “This Little Light of Mine” and the closer we marched, the rally sounds began to surge. We fully expected to be swallowed up and that was fine. But, when we turned the corner, the crowd turned to see who was coming. 

The opposition and supporters were only separated by about ten feet—and our pathway was directly between them.

We didn’t know what might happen. Amazingly, when our people saw us, they moved back to allow us to come through like the parting of the Red Sea.

As we continued to sing “This Little Light,” supporters of marriage equality began to sing as well and we became one group. The rally had made space for the religious voices. Many people leaned over and said, “Thank you for being here.” “I can’t do what you do, but I am glad you are here and doing what you do.”

Meanwhile some opposing protestors looked at us with disbelief that religious people would be present in support of all families. 

The opposition had a look on their faces that I could only surmise was a look of amazement that there were so many religious leaders on the side of equality.

As the morning went on, the speakers were strong and inspiring. Couples from other lawsuits talked about their journey. Hearing the stories reminded me about my own marriage. Darlene and I were married in Washington, D.C., in 2010, as one of the first couples to marry following the legalization of same-sex marriage.

In that moment, I was overwhelmed then to marry the love of my life and just a few years later, I found myself thrilled with how far we have come. But still today, if we choose to live in Darlene’s home state of Ohio, we would still be considered single at the state level. Ohio still needs to acknowledge our marriage and the marriage of all gay and lesbian couples. There is something very wrong with that picture. It’s unjust!

As I was preparing to leave the rally, I could feel that the crowd was growing more and more celebratory and growing bigger and bigger. While I was happy on one hand, I was torn on the other. Just 35 minutes away was Baltimore where injustice and oppression has been harvesting devastating poverty and producing a plague of injustice. 

As a resident of Maryland and a Black woman, I cannot, nor do I want to ignore these realities. 

As an LGBTQ person I feel a responsibility to stay the course. When marriage equality is won, I will still struggle for justices for black and brown people, for the incarcerated masses, homeless teens, and the exploited underemployed, the hopelessly unemployed, and the list goes on.

I fully claim my right to celebrate our victories in courts, our culture, churches, and systems but we have miles to go before all people are treated equally. As I looked at the LGBTQ crowd I saw there were lots of people of color. Although the majority were non-people of color, we will not be divided. We must be present and be the voices who say all our issues are important.

I cannot NOT be African American. And, as a person of faith, I don’t want to be outside of the crisis on race. We have to be called to action on all of these issues. The focus on marriage and ENDA is good but when we address these issues, we are all at the intersection of identities—and when we deal with mass incarceration, we are all impacted and must all call for justice. It cannot be divided. 

As we walk that journey and march that march, I will hear the chants of my people calling for justice.

“It’s time to do the right thing!” “It’s time for all of us to be free.” We are everywhere and the message came through loud and clear. 

It will seem like a lull between now and when the court announces its decision in June but we shall not rest! There is work we can be doing in our back yards, our front yards—for our whole community.

Photo by Rev. Kendall Brown

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God is a god of love and not a god of hate!

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