Why We Witness For Marriage
A couple holds hands at last year’s Witness for Marriage.
“Why do you do it?” a church member asks. “You know this is Virginia, and they’ll never recognize our marriages without the Supreme Court forcing them to do it.”
That challenge is a common one, even if unexpressed: Change is not possible in Virginia.
To which I say, Nonsense!
As a person of faith I know change is always happening. It is the nature of God’s creation. And that change can be directed constructively. If people did not know that, and act on that knowledge, the Hebrews would still be making bricks in Egypt. Nobody would care about Bethlehem, or Mecca. Black Americans would still be riding in the back of the bus, and women would not be voting.
But there is more to why we witness for marriage for all Virginians.
For one thing, many of us are already married. I know two men who have been married 31 years—they’ve raised two daughters and now they help with four grandchildren. I know two women married 34 years, retired from professional careers and supporting each other through serious health challenges. I am guiding several young couples, and even an older one, through pre-marital spiritual discernment and preparation.
Not everyone will agree with me, but as a pastor I tell couples that I am not marrying them. God has already done that when they looked into each other’s eyes and said, “Yes. You. Now and forever.” What clergy do is invoke God’s blessing and the community’s blessing. And what the state does is to confer certain benefits on the couple and their offspring.
So the idea that the state can deny “gay marriage” is silly. It is already happening all over Virginia. Not even a mean-spirited constitutional amendment adopted by the voters can change that.
That leads me to say confidently that the day is coming when legal marriage will be available to all Virginians. That constitutional provision will be overturned—by the voters. History is always, ultimately, as my Unitarian Universalist friends say, “standing on the side of love.” The tide of love will wash out the stain of hate and ignorance.
The reason we help the grow the tide is not for ourselves alone. We witness for the sake of our children—the ones we bear from previous marriages, the ones we bring into the world in our current marriages, the ones we adopt, the ones who turn out to be gay or lesbian or bisexual or transgender, the ones who turn out to be straight. All of them deserve a world where love is recognized and cherished in all its variety. We can help create such a world for them.
Further, we stand up for religious liberty. For the state to tell me, a pastor duly credentialed in Metropolitan Community Churches, whose tradition has fully recognized same-gender-loving unions for more than 4o years —or Unitarian or the United Church of Christ or Episcopalian clergy whose traditions share that view—that we cannot practice our faith in our sanctuaries and among the people we serve is patently unconstitutional.
Current state law—as a representative of the Virginia Catholic Conference said, approvingly, at a legislative hearing—“criminalizes” the action of clergy or other wedding officiants when we pronounce a couple consisting of two men or two women “married.” It seems clear that this was initially adopted to prevent inter-racial marriages from being recognized. Now it is same-gender-loving ones.
Del. David Englin introduced legislation to change that law, but it failed even to clear a subcommittee. Virginia—so proud of Jefferson and Madison, the great champions of religious liberty—still denies it to a significant part of its citizenry. And growing numbers of clergy, knowing we answer to God, will continue to break the law, until it is changed.
So, why do we, people of many faiths, witness for marriage?
It’s simple really. Our faith calls us to this work. We cannot be faithful to the God who creates and loves us, and watch that love be mocked and abused.
Neither narrow and conveniently legalistic interpretations of sacred texts, nor small-minded thinking, nor fear of change, nor any other impediment to justice and love, can stop us from speaking up for, and standing on the side of, the unlimited, and the unlimiting, love and justice of God.
At noon on Valentine’s Day, same-sex couples across the city go to the John Marshall Courts Building, 400 North Ninth Street, to apply for a marriage license. The applications are kept on file until a day when marriage is legal in the Commonwealth.
Rev. Dr. Robin H. Gorsline is President of People of Faith for Equality in Virginia, an interfaith organization of gay and straight clergy and lay people working for equality for LGBT Virginians. Read more of his thoughts on faith and spirituality on his personal blog.
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