Since my last experience trying to phone my primary care doctor’s office and get a refill amounted to a series of voice mails left by me, which received no answer and led to no renewed prescription, I took the doctor’s advice and today registered for their Internet portal. I looked over my records online and after scrolling down through “conditions” now deemed “resolved” was surprised to see the following category of “active” items:
Personal Health Conditions
The first listed was “never a smoker.”
That sounds legit.
The second listed was “Homosexuality.”
I wonder if my straight friends who are patients there would find a note proclaiming their Personal Health Condition of “Heterosexuality?”
Yesterday I was reading about Matthew Vines, author of God and the Gay Christian, and his continuing effort to be in dialogue with evangelical Christian leaders about the acceptance of LGBTQ people in the church. He was invited to a conversation with Rev. Caleb Kaltenbach, an evangelical pastor whose parents split up because they were both gay. Kaltenbach has tried to find scriptural support for being okay with gay people generally, especially since that group includes his parents.
As a child, Mr. Kaltenbach attended a gay rights march with his mother, and he recalls protesters yelling that God condemned the marchers and throwing urine on them. (His book, “Messy Grace,” part memoir and part advice for pastors on ministering to gays, will be published this year.) He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.” Openly gay couples attend his church, he said, but are not allowed to serve on the leadership board. (From the New York Times)
My bold there. I don’t understand why, in a world where there are so many, many, many churches in flavors both denominational and non-, a gay couple would freely choose a church where leadership is forbidden to them due to their relationship status. I wonder about the hurt feelings sustained when they have been around long enough to want to get more involved and discover they are not *that* welcome. In a world where even Tony Campolo is now encouraging churches to embrace and accept gay couples, I hope they know there are other choices.
It’s possible that queer couples who go to a church where they are not received as full members, where they are not allowed to serve in leadership roles, where their status as baptized members of the Body of Christ is somehow “less than,” feel they are on a mission from God. I know I sometimes feel that way, living in South Central Pennsylvania, which is not exactly the most progressive corner of the globe. There are days when it feels like my entire calling to this place is to be an ordinary queer on behalf of Jesus Christ, whether as the interim pastor of a United Church of Christ congregation a few towns over or as the wife of the female Senior Pastor at the Presbyterian Church USA congregation across the street. Every time I answer the door at the manse as her wife, I am representing. Every time I share a family anecdote in a sermon, I am representing. Every time I get home from church first and walk our puppy, and the Presbyterians stop over to pet him before they go home, I am representing.
Some days it feels so ordinary to be there in a church-owned house with my wife and our children that the only thing I stress about is whether the puppy will chew on something that belongs to the church rather than to us. Other days, it feels like I finally know what cross I was always intended to bear, a cross engraved with the words “Queer Christian.” It’s not a death sentence; rather it is a holy burden, and the work of my life, to be queer and faithful.
He says evangelicals should welcome gay people with “acceptance, but not approval.”
This sentence weighs on me. It’s essentially the opposite of the UCC’s category for welcoming churches, “Open and Affirming.” Despite my continuing concerns about whether my family is fully safe, much less accepted, here in South Central Pennsylvania, on the whole we have received an amazing and affirming reception in our churches. This is particularly true at my wife’s church, where she continues to do fruitful ministry, and I do a lot of the things any pastor’s wife might as a volunteer leader: I lead a women’s Bible Study, and I serve on the Fellowship Committee, and this morning I stood witness at a wedding.
I don’t know the experience or the point of view of the gay couples who attend churches like Kaltenbach’s. I do know the feeling of doing what you believe God calls you to do. I also know the experience of being rejected or, worse, ignored by people who will not meet my gaze because they cannot quite get to acceptance, much less to approval. My hope for the couples who bravely return to church each week is two-fold. First, may they know that there are plenty of churches, more all the time, where they and their gifts for leadership and service would be most welcome. Second, if they are choosing to work through it in response to a call from God, may the change of hearts happening in the world reach the places where they are now, and may they be able to see the change and know they were part of it. Perhaps this is the work of their life, too, to be queer and faithful, accepted and approved by God.
That’s a weird thing to write, because in fact I passed for straight for most of my life, either because I hadn’t thought yet about not being straight, or later because I *had* thought about it and just couldn’t face what it might mean for my life.
Today I was getting a pedicure, and to be completely honest, it’s not the first time I’ve let the women in that particular salon think my spouse is a pastor in town who happens to be a man.
We were talking about dogs, and I said we used to have a Golden Retriever, and the young woman doing my pedicure, who had figured out we are a blended family, asked, “Was it yours or his?”
Sometimes, no matter how hard I try to not have it be a thing, being queer is a thing. It’s a truism of coming out that some of us don’t “look” queer, and that means we have to come out more often, because otherwise no one will know.* I’m that gay, that lesbian, that queer. Just last week, I asked my hairdresser to queer me up, but I still look like somebody’s mom, which is to say a person whose sexual orientation is not of particular interest to people, especially those younger than I am, whether they are gay or straight. This is true even in the gayest looking item of clothing I own (a $4.99 black thermal hoodie from the clearance rack at Old Navy).
Our 10-year-old is filling a notebook with jokes, which reminded us of this one:
A father and son have a car accident and are both badly hurt. They are both taken to separate hospitals. When the boy is taken in for an operation, the surgeon says ‘I cannot do the surgery because this is my son’. How is this possible?
The surgeon is his mother.
My spouse is my wife, and the Golden Retriever was hers.
Usually I can find a way to avoid the pronouns, but sometimes, and this was one of them, the pronouns will get you. And I’m sitting there with my pants folded up to my knees and one foot in soapy water and the other foot in the hands of a stranger with sharp tools, and I’ve got nowhere to hide.
“Was it yours or his?”
“His,” I said, and even though we joke about how we are the Ward and June Cleaver of gay couples, and I’m June, I felt bad about it.
Most of my life has been lived with the benefit of massive privilege: white, raised reasonably well-off, well-educated, American, Protestant and, until I came out, straight-in-the-eyes-of-the-world and quite honestly in mine, too, for the majority of that time. Even before I came out to myself, when I was telling *myself* a story about my life, I could take for granted that talking about my family was safe.
I could take for granted that talking about my family was safe.
Today I couldn’t do that, and I’ll admit that the law passed in Indiana is on my mind. People I know are sharing articles and op-eds they think are smart, saying the real trouble is about liberal intolerance toward religion, or that marriage equality is okay with them but people should have the freedom to associate with who they like. I would ask them to consider that the effect of such a law is more than the specific and localized legal impact. It says to people, even in places where it is not the law, that gay people – and particularly married gay people – are an acceptable group to despise and avoid.
It gives permission to “other” people, which is a dangerous thing.
I would like to ask my straight friends to consider how they would feel about going into a restaurant, a barber shop, a clothing store, a yarn store (God forbid!) or a ball park and being refused service. I would like to ask my straight friends to imagine not feeling safe to answer the kind of passing question your dental hygienist or nail technician might ask.
Then think about me. Picture me and my family, going to the kinds of places your family goes, and not being safe because our kid has a mom and a step-mom. I am asking you to personalize this and picture us when you wonder if this law really hurts anyone.
That’s why I didn’t correct the young woman doing my pedicure this morning. That’s why today I passed as straight.
I’ve been to Rehoboth Beach twice this year, each time to officiate at a wedding.
Dewey Beach was the site for a rehearsal dinner for the first couple. It was a beautiful Friday evening, the first weekend in May, cool enough that we all appreciated the bonfire. There were some other people on the beach as the evening unfolded, but our party of several dozen mostly had the beach to ourselves. The two brides felt safe in expressing their affection for one another, and when my wife arrived, I greeted her with love and with no fear of reprisal.
There was a moment when some young adults walked by, mid-bonfire, figured out it was a wedding-related event, and looked a bit surprised to hear there were two brides, but they were two people, and we were forty, and frankly, they were intoxicated, and they wandered off then wandered back and finally yelled, as they went on their way, “Congratulations!”
The wedding took place in a Presbyterian church, just a few weeks before a judge in Pennsylvania ruled in favor of marriage equality, and six weeks or so before the Presbyterian Church (USA)’s General Assembly voted in favor of an Authoritative Interpretation allowing pastors in states where equal marriage is legal to perform marriage ceremonies. The AI granted freedom of conscience for off-campus weddings and opened the conversation with lay leadership, where desired, about weddings on church property. But none of that had happened when I put on my robe and stole to join my friends in marriage, standing in another pastor’s church, doing something he could do legally but not ecclesiastically.
I e-mailed him a scan of the officiant’s copy of the marriage license, for his records, for his protection.
The second wedding actually took place on the beach. Teenage bystanders ogled the small party gathered, but a group of mostly lesbians can offer a fearsome gaze in response, and the ceremony went on untroubled.
When a couple has been together 17 years (or 30 as was the case for another couple whose ceremony I officiated this summer), I want to take account of the fact that while something new is finally happening, their commitment to each other has been longstanding and is not to be discounted simply because they knew it mattered before state or church acknowledged it. Some reuse the rings already given as a sign of commitment. Some think that seems strange, and so I wrap my stole around their clasped hands and pray over the rings they have long worn. There is no right or wrong way, little precedent, only an attempt to bring together strands of church and state and love and long-held truth. I’m the privileged one, witnessing holy moments and having the power to sign a piece of paper that adds another layer of relationship, one so deeply desired yet commonplace.
I took a long time to be similarly convinced of my own truth, so long that my earliest reflections on marriage as privilege were written from deep in the closet, as a self-identified ally with a history as a self-proclaimed “lesbian wannabe,” a person who despite her own questions about her orientation walked right into a clerk’s office and got a license. All I needed was a guy and forty bucks.
The day after the wedding, KZJ, Mr. Dimples and I went to the beach for the few hours we could manage and still get home for an interview I had that night. It’s been two years since we spent an extended period of time at a beach, that time on a vacation with extended family at a beach much less crowded. I’m not sure we reckoned our privilege then any more than I did as a young woman who did the expected thing. We waded through the umbrellas already covering the beach at 10 a.m. and found a place to put down the tourist-priced, bright-colored towels we bought that morning, decorated with flip-flops and shells and beach umbrellas. Sometimes it’s a privilege to be among the masses, two moms and a boy eager to feel the ocean again. We didn’t have much elbow room, but the ocean lay before us, waves breaking, the air all at once salty and sweet.
I was a Kiss Cam virgin when we went to see the Orioles at Camden Yards a couple of years ago. The minor league ball field near my house in Maine didn’t feature a big video screen, so I was surprised when, late in the game, the camera zoomed in on one couple after another, and they all obediently kissed. I’m not sure of the criteria used to deem a couple worthy of the Kiss Cam, but one defining characteristic became clear: these were all pairs consisting of a man and a woman.
I happened to be sitting with my Beloved, and I know from the selfies we took with my iPhone that night we looked about as ridiculously in love as two people could. It’s not that we wanted to be on camera, but it bothered me that we wouldn’t even be considered a possibly romantic couple, simply because we are both women.
It’s a silly thing. People are sitting minding their own business when suddenly one of them notices they are being shown on a huge screen and nudges the other. They oblige the crowd, usually, in an innocent fashion. Occasionally you hear a story about the camera falling on a brother and sister (including a brother who ran away, thinking that would be hilarious), admittedly an awkward misapprehension. I’m sure there are friends who have kissed, because why not, and couples who have done so reluctantly because they just barely felt like coming to the game together anyway. When Kiss Cam comes calling, even the President and the First Lady oblige.
I live my day to day life in a home and in a church/workplace where my status as a woman married to a woman is taken for granted. Sometimes I forget and think I’m ordinary. It’s not that I want to kiss on camera — although I would be more likely to be okay with it than my more private wife would — but I want to think that even we could be included in something so banal. Aren’t we just as cute as the Obamas?
It is, as I said before, a silly thing.
Except that it’s not.
Now I live near a minor league team with a big screen and cameras, and I’ve been initiated into the mysteries of the Kiss Cam prank. After doing what I’ve described above, the last place the camera lands is on two players from the visiting team, sitting in the dugout. The first time I saw it, one of them good-naturedly bussed the other on the cheek. I chuckled, until I considered the implications, and at the next game I saw something that more accurately reflected the feelings of the crowd. This time the two visiting players looked disgusted.
Not only are couples like us not included, couples like us are the butt of a joke.
When people wonder why we need legislation and the courts to change the status of couples like us and all LGBT people, when states take votes on our rights because the majority rules, I remind myself that the rule of the majority is also the rule of the lowest common denominator. It’s very easy to condemn others because they seem different, or we think we are better, for whatever reasons we’ve been taught and to which we cling. We see this in racism and sexism and heterosexism, too. We see it reinforced by churches and other institutional and moral structures. We make assumptions: “That man and that woman sitting next to each other are a couple. They will fit right into this neighborhood/church/club.”
Jesus did not make assumptions in a way that excluded people. In Luke 7, Simon the Pharisee wonders about Jesus’ status as a prophet. A real prophet would know the woman weeping over his feet was a sex worker and therefore would not want her to be in the room, much less touching his body.
A real prophet would never be caught sitting next to this woman, would he?
Jesus knew all about her. He knew everything that mattered. He knew she was an ordinary person with a desire to be in community with God.
It isn’t God who has the problem. God embraces all of us.
The Supreme Court will soon rule on DOMA and Proposition 8. I hope the highest court will find some higher common denominator, a higher sense of our common humanity, when their majority rules. Whether we’re at the emergency room or the swimming pool, paying taxes or buying Christmas presents, adopting a child or bringing home a rescued pet, sealing our vows in church or going along with the fun at the minor league game let us be ordinary people.
“Marfa?” He was six when he asked the question, all big eyes and enormous dimples. “You love my mom like you want to marry her, don’t you?”
A heavy silence ensued, head and heart and gut all swerving to a stop before I made words come out of my mouth. I tried to keep my face composed, as I looked at his mother and back at him.
“Yes. I guess I do.”
He broke into his most charming smile. “Well, she *is* single!”
We breathed again.
But “marry” remained a charged word as we worked out a plan for bringing our long-distance relationship into one location. We believe in this God: The Lord will keep your going out and your coming in from this time on and forevermore. (Psalm 121:8, NRSV) We craved what we kept calling “ordinary time,” to be together in all our comings in and goings out. Would we live on the down low, moving nearer to each other and letting people think of us as best friends? Or would we tell the truth, as clearly as a six-year-old, about our going in and our coming out?
We both grew up in church-attending households; we are both ordained ministers. One of us revered the institution of marriage despite past experience with the father of Mr. Dimples; the other — that would be me — felt some combination of romantic hope and workaday cynicism based on hers. As my mother’s best friend from childhood put it, I made “poor” marriages, as if the fault lay simply in the way I chose or lived them.
But in my late 40s, and after a long time trying to talk myself out of it, I admitted two things to myself: I didn’t like men that way, and I loved a very particular woman. It’s hard to make anything other than a poor marriage when you can’t make that connection of the heart. When my heart connected to Kathryn’s, it all made sense.
As a United Church of Christ pastor, I had long since declared myself an ally for LGBT rights. Now I found myself in the vulnerable position of needing those allies, from among my friends and my family. I found myself in the unexpected position of being the subject of court cases and statewide ballot issues; I found myself in the awkward position of hearing the words I had often preached and applying them to my own situation: you will find your salvation in becoming fully who God made you to be.
I believed it for other people; did I believe it for me?
I found I didn’t have a choice. Love moved me like a wave you can’t resist; you have to ride it or be bowled over by the surf. Keeping a secret from others, once I had admitted it to myself, didn’t feel right. Friends blessed me; my children, from mid-teen to mid-twenties, offered their unconditional love and support. After a period of prayerful discernment spurred on by Mr. Dimples’ query, we decided to make getting married our priority. We decided to come out to our congregations, and come in to the light, and let the rest of the geographical and vocational logistics fall into place from there.
All that involved not only God and two families and two circles of friends, but it also involved two churches. To the people of the North Yarmouth Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, who I left to be married, I send my love and thanks. Thank you for being so accepting and gracious; thank you for bidding me such an emotionally generous farewell despite mixed feelings about the parting itself. We know we could have stayed right there and lived in my home in Portland, where an elementary school student with two moms in the household hasn’t been interesting since about 1995. But the call, as we prayed and prayed further, came to make our lives in my wife’s home and in her church. To the people of Mechanicsburg Presbyterian Church (USA), thank you. The ordinary ways you have welcomed the minister’s new wife — including inviting me to join the Fellowship Committee — have made it clear we followed the right path.
Because we are very ordinary, even old-fashioned. We fell in love, and we got married in church. We had the resources to do it in a state where we could get a legal license, where going to apply for it was extremely ordinary. I pray the Supreme Court will move our nation toward a time when it is ordinary everywhere, when any two people who love each other can come in to a clerk’s office and ask for a marriage license. I pray my wife and I do honor to the support shown and the blessings offered, in our coming out and our coming in, as long as we both shall live.
I’m old-fashioned. I grew up in a culture, both religious and family, that regarded marriage as forever. When my mother and father became engaged in 1949, her grandmother reminded everyone that there had never been a divorce in the family. She could only say that because they never told her about the beloved cousin whose marriage ended. My mother had broken an earlier engagement at her parents’ insistence because the man who loved her had been previously married to an English girl during World War II; his bride was too homesick to live here with him.
These sound like folk tales now, but they formed my view of marriage and divorce when I was a young woman. Marriage is forever, and if you should be so unfortunate as to get divorced, you will reside in limbo. Add on a layer of religious piety and you get the kind of nice girl (and I use the word deliberately) who marries the young man who asks her because clearly this is God’s hand working in her life and if only she will do her best to be a good wife, all shall be well and everyone will live happily ever after.
Really, these stories sound like fairy tales.
I never thought of them as being political.
But marriage is on the ballot in my state, Maine, again. It’s been three years since the legislature passed a measure allowing the issuance of marriage licenses to same gender-couples. It’s been three years since the governor signed it into law. And it’s been three years since a Citizen’s Veto petition ended in a narrow victory for those who did not want to extend this right to non-straight people. We’re trying again, this time going to the polls with a measure that would allow same-sex couples to marry legally in Maine. The Yes on 1 campaign has not focused on the legal benefits of marriage, but on the idea that love matters to all families. Television ads feature straight clergy, parents and grandparents affirming their support, saying they want their church members, friends, children and grandchildren to be able to have what they have. “When we were young,” says the woman married for 52 years, “we didn’t dream of a civil union or signing a piece of paper. We wanted to get married.”
Of course, same-sex couples are getting married in Maine all the time anyway. They just don’t have a civil license. They’ve made religious and emotional commitments, promises to love and cherish from now until there is no tomorrow. They’ve thrown beautiful parties and hired photographers and shared their news with the world. Their friends have “liked” their relationship status changes on Facebook. They’re already living as if the change has been made, even without the piece of paper.
In May I joined a Unitarian Universalist colleague to officiate at a wedding. One of her church members was marrying one of mine. It was the most touching, sincere wedding I’ve ever attended. My church member glowed with love, and her new spouse wore an expression of bemused delight. My part in the ceremony ended just before the vows, and as I went to sit down, my church member’s mother patted the seat beside her in the front pew. Soon, vows taken and new status declared, the couple prepared to descend from the chancel, and the organist broke into “Joy to the World”—the Three Dog Night version. Sara and Jeremiah were married!
When I was a young bride-to-be, living the fairy tale dream, an august Episcopal relative performed the ceremony. He told us then that a license didn’t matter. He could marry us without one, and it would be the same in God’s eyes.
Because of a complication around health insurance, Sara and Jeremiah married without a civil license. But they married.
It may sound like I’m making a case that the legal part doesn’t matter, but I’m not. I believe religious standards and civil standards can and should be different. I don’t want to have to perform a marriage for every couple, gay or straight, who might want a religious wedding before their reception at The Barn, a tenth of a mile down the road from my church. I don’t want to tell other pastors or priests what to do. I understand that some faith communities will choose to limit that exchange of vows in various ways: to members of their churches, or of their denominations, or to those who take a class or receive premarital counseling with priest or pastor. They have that right.
I want the right to do the same, to determine my willingness to marry a couple not based on their gender or orientation but based on their desire to make a faithful commitment to one another, in the eyes of God and the community of people who know them best.
My denomination, the United Church of Christ, voted at General Synod in 2005 to support equal marriage, but actual practices are left up to churches at the local level. This means we don’t always agree. In my own congregation there are people who have described to me their struggle with using the word marriage to apply to same-sex couples. If the law changes, then good Congregational UCC pastors will discuss the matter with their Deacons and work it out together. I suspect there are members who support the idea of equal rights, but hope it won’t have to be discussed in our church.
This has become personal as I move toward making a commitment to the woman I love. “I’m old-fashioned,” a dear member told me, affirming the goodness of my relationship and allowing that it would be fine for us to live together. “I just wish you wouldn’t call it marriage.”
But I’m old-fashioned, too. I can’t imagine calling it anything else. I’m getting married.