Wednesday, January 6, 2010

A Clergyman's Support for Constitution-Granted Marriage Equality

Tomorrow New Jersey will be in the position to enter the few (but proud) group of states that have embraced marriage equality. The New Jersey Senate will be debating and voting on the legislation Thursday afternoon, and you can log on online and watch the event unfold live from your computer. Observers suggest that the action will start around 2:00 p.m. today, but keep checking the site for updates.

As legislators in New Jersey consider this tremendously important question, there are no shortage of opinions on how the vote should go. One of the best ones out there comes from our PFLAG National Board member, Rev. Gil Caldwell. Rev. Caldwell lives in Asbury Park, NJ and is a retired United Methodist Minister. He shared his powerful opinion about the critical need for the right to marry with Garden State Equality, and we’re happy to reprint it here.

"I will not be able to be in Trenton on Thursday with my clergy colleagues, the amazing young (and not-so-young) members and friends of Garden State Equality and others as the New Jersey Senate votes to affirm marriage equality. But, these words reflect the hope that is within me as the Senate votes. I have written elsewhere that being with and on the edge of the efforts of Garden State Equality brought back for me memories of "Mississippi Freedom Summer", the Selma to Montgomery March and the March on Washington. Of course there are differences in the long struggles of those of us who are African Americans and the struggles of persons who are same gender loving. Of course Garden State Equality in its enthusiams and efforts may have "rubbed some supporters the wrong way", But, just as today most Americans celebrate what the Civil Rights Movement did for America, there will come a time when most New Jerseyans will celebrate what the New Jersey Legislature, in response to its commitment to Constitution-granted equality and the witness of Garden State Equality, did as it votes for marriage equality.

Some thoughts that may be helpful if shared, in anticipation of the Thursday vote.

1. I am a 76 year old racial, "Segregation Survivor". When I was born in North Carolina, I was born amidst a legislative, historical and cultural environment that believed that my race that I had nothing to do with, justified my second class and segregated status. The New Jesey Legislature has the opportunity to eliminate second class and segregregated status for persons whose sexual orientation from birth is same-gender loving.

2. The New Jesey Senate will be voting at a time when the Legislature of Uganda is considering legislation that would impose punitive sanctions, even death, upon same gender loving persons. New Jersey nor the USA are Uganda. Yet there are some persons, under the guise of supporting traditonal marriage and a narrow biblical interpretation, who would do in New Jersey that, that is proposed in Uganda. My 52 years of "traditional" marriage, my Biblical faith and most of all my commitment to the concept/practice of equality embedded in our nation's principles makes it impossible for me to expect anything less than marriage equality for my fellow citizens who are same gender loving.

3. The proverbial, "Some of my best friends", are against marriage equality is true. They are still my friends even though some of them have been "less friendly" because of my open support for marriage equality. Some of them question the validity of my Christian faith now, because of my ally/advocacy of gay rights. But, I do not question the sincerity of their faith. They, like many of my friends throughout the nation who supported legal racial segregation in the past, are "good people who do not realize that their resistance to marriage equality is not so good" (my paraphrase of the words of theologian, Reinhold Niebuhr). They do not realize that today their words and actions that would prohibit marriage equality are not much different from the words of Governor George Wallace, who on the campus of the University of Alabma sought to block racial integration, by declaring, "Segregation now, Segregation tomorrow, Segregation forever." If any of us look at the University of Alabama football team, both on the field and on the sidelines, the cheerleaders and the fans as the University of Alabama plays for the national championship, it will be evident how wrong Governor Wallace was. I say to my friends and colleagues who today oppose marriage equality, they do not want historians of this era or their grandchildren, nieces and nephews to read about their efforts to prohibit marriage equality. Their legacy ought not include their resistance to marriage equality.

Grace, my spouse will say (as usual) that I have written more than I should have (I have). But, we are now living in New Jersey to be near our only grandchild, a 5 year old who lives in New Brunswick. I do not want her to grow up in a state that segregates persons because of their sexual orientation and denies them the right to marry. I, with millions of black persons "grew up" in a time of racial segregation and prohibitions against interracial marriage. I do not want her to grow up in a state that practices another kind of segregation. And, I believe that if most persons listened to their "better angels," neither would they."

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