Excerpts from a sermon by The Rev. Don Southworth
Unitarian Universalist ministers have been officiating at same-sex marriages and commitment ceremonies for many years. This week, when I was reading the Georgia state law on marriages and marriage licenses, I discovered that I could be guilty of marrying people without a license, which is a misdemeanor that carries with it a fine of $500.
If I am ever arrested, I will be happy to pay it.
Having your minister stand up and tell you that he is in favor of same-sex marriage, and that he believes any time two people publicly declare their love and commitment to each other, and state their desire to build a life together, we should celebrate and grant them all rights of marriage, is probably not that big a surprise. But the current climate and conversation about same-sex marriage demands more than nice words about love and commitment.
We must engage in conversation and dialogue, not only with each other, but with those people who will do everything in their power to heap abuse, hatred and discrimination on same-sex couples who only want to love each other and be given equal rights. And we must take action.
The institution of marriage has a long and sometimes disgraceful history. In ancient times, there was little religious meaning to marriage. Marriages, most of which were arranged, were all about property and inheritance and little about romance, love or commitment.
When people bring the Bible into the debate about why homosexuality is a sin and marriage is only between a man and a woman, it is wise to ask what part of the Bible’s sexual mores they believe in. Do they take their teachings from the part in Leviticus that reads “A man who sleeps with another man is an abomination and should be executed.” Or do they take their teachings from the part in Leviticus that says if a bride is found not to be a virgin, she should be executed on the spot? Do they believe in polygamy, concubines or forcing childless widows to have sex with their dead husband’s brothers in order to ensure the dead man has a male heir?
Suffice to say that the Bible is confusing at best when it comes to translating how sexuality and marriage should be done today. Jesus said nothing about homosexuality, and that’s good enough for me.
The institution of marriage will not be harmed if we let more people into it, people who are as loving and as committed as anyone else. It could be argued that same-sex marriage might even help the institution. We heterosexuals have not been doing too great a job.
Last year in Cobb County, for example, which has more churchgoing, supposedly righteous people than any county I have ever lived in, 4,306 marriage licenses were issued and 3,392 divorces were granted. The gays and lesbians I know can do at least as well.
Our government is not guaranteeing the freedom and equality of same-sex couples and that is wrong.
I can march in Gay Pride parades, I can officiate at same-sex marriage and commitment ceremonies and treat them the same as heterosexual marriage ceremonies, and I can preach about how same-sex couples love as deeply as anyone. But I have decided that is not enough. For three years, I have signed wedding licenses knowing that each time I did so I was participating in discrimination.
Last month I went to our board of trustees and the Committee on Ministry to ask them if the covenant I have with the congregation demands that I sign marriage licenses. The board and the committee believes it is implicit in my covenant that I sign licenses, but after listening to my concerns, they have told me they would support amending my covenant to let me perform the religious ceremony, the religious ritual of marriage, and not perform the civil ritual of marriage, the signing of a marriage license. I am hoping the congregation will also support me.
At Little League games, school plays and Thanksgiving dinners, gay and lesbian couples and parents are living ordinary lives. They have made moral, emotional and financial obligations to each other and seek only the recognition and protections a legal marriage affords.
It is time to extend these rights and responsibilities to all Americans. When we do, I will gladly sign marriage licenses again. May it be so. Amen.