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Saturday, February 24, 2007

This is the deal-breaker? Really?

I got home a bit ago from co-presiding at one of the first Civil Unions in New Jersey.

It was at the Church of the Redeemer, Morristown, NJ, where Phillip Wilson is rector and where, five years ago, I was privileged to serve as Associate Rector while also Canon Missioner to The Oasis.

The Civil Union was between two women, Maureen and Cindy, who were two of the six plaintiffs who brought civil suit against the State of NJ for the civil right to marriage. They and their family including their two children, Josh and Sara, gave up the last five years to this struggle. Four of the six plaintiffs were there, including one woman whose partner, tragically and ironically, died last year of Lou Gehrig's Disease.

Cindy and I were remembering, just before the service, that it was 14 years ago last week that we baptized Josh in that very church. David Noregard, then the Executive Director of the Oasis and the reason for their return to the institutional church, had served as officiant. Both of us thought that the idea that we would be here today for this service of Civil Union seemed then like a distant, unattainable dream.

It was a surprisingly traditional service. Pretty much right out of the Prayer Book. As Phillip said in his sermon, these are two of the most delightful yet boring people he knows. One is a Computer Specialist for a University and the other is a Parish Administrator. They attend PTA meetings, live in a big old house that needs attention, serve the church in various capacities, help with homework, drive the kids to sports and other school events - well, you get the picture.

My favorite part was when Maureen and Cindy came down the aisle, wheeling Maureen's 80-something year old (Roman Catholic) dad in his wheel chair, as he held their hands. Everyone spontaneously applauded. There wasn't a dry eye in the house.

So, I'm sitting there, watching all this happen and thinking, "And this is the deal breaker? This is what the present drama is all about in the Anglican Communion? THIS? Commitment? Love? Mutuality? Fidelity? Faithfulness? Monogamy? The Value of Families?"

And then I thought, "Shame! Shame on them! Shame on the Global South Primates. Shame on the North American prelates who fan the flames of bigotry and prejudice in the name of Jesus. Shame on good people who do nothing, which is all that is necessary for evil to exist."

Phillip began his sermon by announcing that this was "Good News and Bad News. The Good News," he said, "was that the struggle had come to the assurance of some civil rights for LGBT people in Civil Union. The Bad News," he continued, "was that the struggle was not yet over. This is still not Marriage."

Phillip quoted my critique of the passage of Civil Union vs. Marriage as saying, "If it walks like a duck, and looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, why are we calling it a turkey?" Indeed. How can the liturgical rite of blessing and the provision of legal rights for a 32 year old relationship possibly be a "threat to the sanctity of marriage"? Why do we have to play games? Why can't we be honest about what we are doing?

Judging by the number of young people in the more than 300 people in attendance in the congregation - many of whom are Josh and Sara's class mates and neighbors - I think honesty is not far from our grasp.

Twenty years from now we're going to look back on this time and say two things. First, we'll scratch our heads and ask, "What was all that drama about, anyway?" And then we'll shake our heads and say, "Shame on them!"

But for today, we'll rejoice for Cindy and Maureen, and for Josh and Sara, who also get my vote for "Family of the Year." This is one for the history books! Congratulations. We're so very proud of you!


Peggy said...

Do you think it is possible that the Episcopal Church could just stop wringing its collective national hands over making the global Anglican Communion unhappy and say to them that we intend to be an inclusive, open church that listens to the still-speaking Voice, and that we will welcome them like the returned Prodigal Son when they all come around sometime in the next 100 years?

Rowan said...

Thank you Mtr. Keaton. This is well written and thoughtful. I am passing it on to a friend.
Linda McMillan

Wayne said...

What a wonderful story, E, particularly in the midst of so much anger, sadness, disappointment, and (I admit) rage.

Let us pray that yes, twenty years from now, we'll just be scratching our collective heads and saying, "Now what was the big deal again?" and "Shame on them. How dare they use the name of the Savior to exclude, denigrate, belittle, and harm us."