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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

"If it walks like a duck . . ."

The Civil Union of
Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian

Church of the Redeemer, Morristown, NJ

Sermon by The Rev. Phillip Dana Wilson
February 24, 2007

Readings: Isaiah 43: 1-19; Psalm 66: 2-5; “What Is Love” Author Unknown;
John 15:9-12

The good news and the bad news are both the same today: that we have come to this place to witness and bless a legal civil union in the State of New Jersey. As my friend, Elizabeth Kaeton, once said, “What is this animal that looks like a duck, walks like a duck, quakes like a duck and still, we call it a turkey?” The good news and the bad news is that we are here to witness and bless a legal civil union. And, “legal” means something very, very important. It is a great victory. But, the struggle is not over yet. We must never stop until we can name this duck for what it is: marriage in the fullest legal, canonical, spiritual and social sense.

When any two people take the incredible risk of entering a life long covenant with each other; when any two people make a commitment to each other before anyone else; when any two people open themselves up to the exquisite joy, the excruciating pain, the everyday familiarity and the hard work that is found in such a committed relationship, it is the essence of marriage, regardless of the language we are allowed to use. Everyone knows the sacred quality of marriage between two people which is to be honored and respected before the relationship to any other person. Everyone know what this means. That is why the word is so important.

An example of the honor given to marriage was found in a picture that dominated the front page of the January 2, 2007 New York Times. Governor-elect Eliot Spitzer and his wife, Silda, hand in hand, were climbing the Capital steps in Albany to be greeted at the top by out going Governor George Pataki and his wife Libby, standing hand in hand. Everyone seeing that photo got the message: of the significance of committed relationships that comes before all others and are to be respected and honored. That is why we must not stop until marriage, in name and substance, is available to all. Everyone knows what marriage is. To refuse to allow the name of marriage to any couple is to say to them that their relationship is less than marriage and is diminished in value.

Our focus today is upon two people, Cindy Meneghin and Maureen Kilian, who have waited since 1981 for the day that their relationship would be legally recognized. In 1981 they asked their Roman Catholic priest to bless their relationship in the name of the Church. The best the priest could do was to bless their rings. He dared not bless their vows. Of course there could be no announcement. For 32 years Cindy and Maureen have been in a committed relationship and today we can announce it to the world and claim the legal protection that the state gives to all other committed couples.

Their life together for these past 26 years has the look of most other traditional couples: having two children, a boy, Joshua and a girl, Sarah; taking care of aging parents and family members; going to PTA and homeroom meetings; buying a home and fixing it up; going to Church together; baking cookies and serving as a family at the Church Soup Kitchen; driving that ultimate “family-mobile” a large van; taking family vacations to the shore and both parents going to work and paying taxes. Couples don’t come more traditional than these two.

Something that was not so traditional about these two was their joining with other couples to sue the state of New Jersey to allow them to get married. It was not something that they would have sought out; but they had no choice. So, for the past five years Cindy, Maureen, Joshua and Sarah met with lawyers, attended town meetings, been part of public panels, had their pictures taken, talked with reporters and gave up their private life so that we could be here today doing what we are doing. Maybe there is some traditional “mother bear” in each of these two women fighting for family and what is important.

I asked these two women how they have been treated these five years, fully expecting to hear of hate letters and abusive phone calls. Instead, I heard just the opposite: supportive teachers in their children’s school saying how they had seen them on television, neighbors in the Pathmark rushing down the aisle to give a hug in solidarity and a Butler town clerk who greeted them warmly when they went down to register for a civil union, saying, “It’s been a long time coming,” as she helped them fill out the forms. Cindy and Maureen you earned this respect and support by who you are and how you handled yourselves these five years.

Human beings are created in the image of God whose commandment is that we love one another. We were created for relationship. To forbid or minimize the relationship of commitment between any two people is to inflict an incredible hurt upon them. It is to divide the world up into categories of good enough and not good enough. It is to deny the power God whose glory is human beings fully alive. And, we have discovered that we become most alive when we love deeply and fully and when we allow ourselves to be loved in the same way.

Cindy and Maureen your love and commitment of the past 32 years grace each of us here as we honor, bless and legally recognize your life together at this time. The struggle is not over, but, because of you and others, we have come a long way. Cindy and Maureen, you are the front line of a long struggle carried on by people who came before you, whose names may be forgotten and who risked physical harm to speak out.

For me, God is not found on Michelangelo's ceiling but within that great long line of people down through time who have struggled for the simple right to be treated as a child of God. For me, God is part of that struggle, part of the movement from the first time one person said to another, "No, you can not treat me as less than human and I accept the cost of demanding that you see me as such." God is a part of that struggle.

Let me end with a story by a woman who was one of a long line of people who struggled in the second half of the eighteen hundreds in South Africa that women and blacks might eventually be treated as children of God. You have probably never heard her name but she is part of the long line that led to Nelson Mandela and Desmond Tutu. This is a story of God as told by Olive Schreiner of South Africa.

A woman on a journey asks, "Why do I go to this far land where no one else has gone before? I am alone, utterly alone. My efforts seem so futile. Who am I to change anything, to make any kind of difference?"

A wise old one, who stood close by, bid her to be silent and to listen to what she heard. She listened intently and finally said, "I hear the sound of feet, of a thousand times ten thousand feet that beat their way." The wise one said "They are the feet of those who shall follow you. Lead on. Go into the new land. Go directly to the water's edge. Where you stand now the ground will be beaten flat by thousands upon thousands feet."

She said, "How will I cross the stream?"

The wise one said, "Have you seen the locust how they cross the stream? First one comes down to the water's edge and it is swept away, an then another comes and another. At last with their bodies piled up, one on the other, a bridge is built that the rest pass over."

She said, "But, of those that came first, some are swept away and are heard of no more; their bodies do not even build a bridge."

“Yes,” the wise one responded, "Yes, and are swept away and are heard of no more. And, what of that?"

"And, what of that?" she echoed in amazement.

"They make a path to the water's edge." the wise one answered.

"And, over the bridge which shall be built of our bodies who will pass?", she asked.

The response of the wise one was: "The entire human race!"

And, the woman grasped her staff and turned down the path toward the water.

This is a story of God.

Thank you: Cindy, Maureen, Josh and Sarah and those people with you who have stood up against the State of New Jersey. Also, we thank the host of people who have come before you many of whose names are forgotten. And, we thank those who will come after you. There is still work to be done. Cindy and Maureen, you are part of a long, long line of people over whose bodies, one day, the human race will pass in full recognition of the sacred quality of every committed relationship.

One day there will be no civil unions, no more separate but equal. One day when it sounds like a duck and walks like a duck and looks like a duck, we will be able to call it a duck.



Grandmère Mimi said...

Lovely stories, both of them. God bless Cindy and Maureen and their families. Thanks be to God for our saint, Olive Schreiner.

Bill said...

Wonderful story. I was smiling while reading the whole thing. It brought a tear to my eye. A happy tear.

Sister Mary Hasta said...

Damnit, Elizabeth, making me cry at work is NOT COOL!

May God grant them many years!

Jim said...

Congrats and best wishes to Cindy, Maureen and their families. May your journey be blessed with ever increasing love and joy.

I continue to pray for a time when we wont have to call this, "civil union" and some folks wont have to be involentarily in the back of the bus.