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Thursday, October 26, 2006

If it walks like a duck . . .

Well, the long awaited verdict is in. Yesterday, the Supreme Court in the State of New Jersey ruled that GLBT people in New Jersey can be married, but we just can’t call it that.

Following the example of the State of VT, the verdict of NJ Supremes is to call it a “civil union.”

I know. It was a “decision” not a verdict. Never mind. I’m still going to call it a verdict because it feels more like a judgment of guilt than a logical, rational decision about civil rights.

That guilt, I suppose, would be “guilt by association” – the association of two people of the same gender who form families with each other, and with each other’s families, and sometimes (more and more these days) with children they have borne or adopted or welcomed into their homes and hearts through foster care.

I don’t get it.

If it sounds like a duck and walks like a duck and looks like a duck, it’s a duck. Right?

Well, friends, that may be true for ducks but it’s not to be so for the solemn and holy relationship between two people of the same sex. It may look like marriage, and have all the same legal rights of marriage, and even sound like a marriage when you attend the ceremony, but somehow, it’s not marriage, it’s a ‘civil union.’

I suppose this logic follows that old gentile Southern saying, “Well, you don’t want to scare the horses.”

Don’t get me wrong. I’m happy for the progress. The activists at Garden State Equality (GSE) are not going to be happy with me for saying this, but at least it’s a step forward from ‘domestic partnership,’ which my ‘partner’ and I are pleased to have. Progress is still progress.

Steve Goldstein over at GSE argues that this is not a helpful position for a community leader to take. He writes, “It's not heaven, it's not hell, it's purgatory,” adding that, “there is a problem with telling anyone, whether your family, friends or even journalists, that the decision is a victory: It will hurt our efforts to win marriage equality in the next 180 days.”

Goldstein concludes, “The bottom line is this: Marriage is the only currency of commitment the real world universally accepts. Anything short of marriage equality deprives LGBTI families of the equal protection they so desperately need. Contraptions short of marriage, like civil unions and domestic partnerships, do not provide that protection, as we've learned through the New Jersey experience. Thus we do not have a win yet.”

People have been asking us if we’ll have a ‘civil union’ now and hope that it will be ‘grandmothered’ as a marriage. My response has been that after thirty years, I’m holding out for the diamond engagement ring. If Ms. Conroy is smart, she’ll do the same thing.

The interesting thing is what this all does in the church. It’s classic irony. In the Diocese of Newark, we have no “official” diocesan policy about blessing same sex relationships. Neither do we have an “official” liturgy.

All that being said, clergy and bishops in this diocese have been performing blessings for more than 25 years. One clergy person has even taken to naming – and recording both same sex blessings and heterosexual marriage in church records – as “Sacramental Marriage.” (I know. I know. Don’t get me started.)

Here’s the real irony: The canons of the church are very, very clear that the definition of marriage is between one man and one woman. So, while clergy can preside at a blessing of same sex couples, we can’t preside at their marriage.

You just can’t make this stuff up.

The question, however, remains: Can we preside at the Civil Union of Same Sex Couples? Tune in tomorrow folks, for the next episode of “As the Church turns . . ”(Cue dramatic musak)

The bottom line for me is this: it’s not a step backward. The Supremes, thank God, didn’t say ‘no.’ They could have. But, in that silly legal game of “Simon Says,” they said,

“The Supremes say, ‘Take another baby step forward.’”

The thing about “bottom lines,” however, is that when you reach it, you often find that it has moved. Here’s what I mean by that: I don’t mean to sound ungrateful, but you know, I’m really tired of taking baby steps to the full realization of what the Constitution guarantees every citizen of these United States of America – and, that would include me.

I’m weary of having to justify the fullness of my participation in the human enterprise – to have a family, to love, to enjoy “life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

I’m fed up with the second class status assigned to my first rate family.

In many ways, Steve Goldstein is absolutely right: We have not yet won the fight.

It’s times like these when I am encouraged by the teachings of community organizer and founder of the Industrial Areas Foundation (IAF), Saul Alinsky. He said:

“Power is not only what you have, it’s what the target thinks you have.”

And: “Make the target live up to its own book of rules.” If the rule is that every letter or E-mail gets a reply, send thousands.”

And, “Keep the pressure on. Never let up.”

So, go over to Garden State Equality and sign this petition .

They will automatically send a copy to the appropriate legislators.

Do it NOW. Go ahead. Go on. Now. Before you forget.

And, if you’ve got a few shekels, send the good folks at GSE a few.

Justice is expensive.

When you reach your bottom line, you come to understand just what a precious commodity justice really is.


MadPriest said...

If I ever catch anybody on my blog being pramatic they'll be out on their ear before they can say, "There's two sides to every argument." My site is purely for the intelligent idealist and we always go for broke.

You're right we should insist on "marriage." That way the boys will have to start behaving themselves like us boring straight geezers and the lesbian couples.

You see, this isn't just a justice issue its a moral issue as well. Why should gay people try to live moral lives if whatever they do they are still deemed immoral. If we bring gay Christianity into the same moral struture (based on faithfulness, commitment, fidelity) as straight people, then there will be less pain, illness and sadness in the gay community. But we can only do that if the institution of marriage is exactly the same, including in name, for gays as well as straights.

Of course, there's also all that soppy, lovey dovey stuff you go on about - I suppose that's important as well. But I don't really want to talk about being English and all that.

Elizabeth Kaeton said...

Those of you who are regular visitors to my humble blog will know that I am absolutely mad for Madpriest.

Now you see why.

If you haven't been to his blog, you simply don't know what you're missing.

Plan to spend at least 45 minutes to an hour there. This is not only a great wit but a prolific blogger.

(Hmm . . 'Prolific blogger' has a naughty ring to it, doesn't it, in that naughty Brit sort of way?)

Go anyway

Grace said...

Preach it madpriest and Mother Kaeton!! Thank God for your witness. I'm going over right now to sign the petition.

Jim said...

What the society around us is doing is working this out and ignoring both the politicians and the preachers. The youth are living together in faithful, monaagomous relationships until the K word arises. Then they get married. There is a model here and we keep missing it.

A couple comes together and comits, and we should bless that. Call it a union, a household formation, whatever. It conveys an entity, that the State invests in certain rights and responsibilities, it is a family. It can be two women, two men, or one of each.

When that family speakes the K word, by pregnancy or adoption, it changes. Then State has some interest in that change, births are registered, obligations change. The church has an interest too, because it has traditionally witnessed the blessing a couple seeks when it begins to parent.

So, if we were doing this right, and paying attention to what the society is doing, we would say that a household formation/union/couple of any mixture should as a matter of justice have the same rights and responsibilities as another and should be undertaken with some serioiusness. And as with any stage in our Christian journey it should seek the counsel and recognition of the Christian community. Call that blessing a household / union.

When however it does, it becomes a parenting union, regardless of the gender of the partners, then it gets "married." And that is a special status that should merit the Christian community's attention, prayer and yes, blessing.

Which is precisely what the youth are doing and we are missing. We argue about the whole thing as though virgin flowers are being traded by land holder parents in the 17th century. There are words for that, chief among them, stupid. The youth get it, the answer is faithfulness and love. And that is what we are not "blessing."