Friday, February 14, 2014
Sister and brothers, we have prayed, sung, marched, worked and witnessed as we have longed for this day. We have walked through some difficult days in the valley of despair, trusting always that though the justice arc is mighty long it bends toward holy ground. When we do the work of love, we come to a time such as this one, when a U.S. District judge declares that Virginia has “arrived upon another moment in history when We the People becomes more inclusive, and our freedom more perfect.”
With gratitude for the sweeping opinion issued yesterday by U.S. District Judge Arenda L. Wright Allen striking down Virginia’s constitution prohibition on same-sex marriage, we celebrate on this lovers holiday that Virginia is for lovers – no strings attached!
As I read the news this morning, I thought of all the strong and beautiful gay and lesbian folks in whose circles I am privileged to move. I recall weeping together in the aftermath of setbacks along the way as votes on marriage or ordination to church office went against us. None of those defeats was more disheartening than when, in 2006, the voters in the commonwealth added the hateful language of the Marshall-Newman amendment to a constitution grounded in the charters of liberty drafted by Thomas Jefferson, James Madison and George Mason.
That original language, from the Virginia Declaration of Rights of 1776, insists that “all men are by nature equally free and independent and have certain inherent rights, of which, when they enter into a state of society, they cannot, by any compact, deprive or divest their posterity; namely, the enjoyment of life and liberty, with the means of acquiring and possessing property, and pursuing and obtaining happiness and safety.”
The restrictive language of the 2006 amendment was offensive to the spirit of liberty upon which the commonwealth was founded. Of course, Virginia’s history includes a great many offenses to its own foundation, and thus, as Judge Allen’s ruling suggests, our history has been a long struggle between principles of freedom and realities that are far from perfect.
Judge Allen’s ruling opens with a lengthy quotation from another Virginia declaration concerning rights: the statement by Mildred Loving on the 40th anniversary of the 1967 decision in Loving v. Virginia that struck down bans on interracial marriage. Speaking in 2007, Mildred Loving said, “I believe all Americans, no matter their race, no matter their sex, no matter their sexual orientation, should have that same freedom to marry. Government has no business imposing some people’s religious beliefs over others. […] I support the freedom to marry for all. That’s what Loving, and loving, are all about.”
I have said often that the simple phrase from 1 John – God is love – is enough theology for me most days. If God is about love, about relationships of passion and compassion, of justice and righteousness, of creativity and concern, then every decision that advances the cause of love advances the cause of God.
Yesterday’s ruling does just that, and so today – Valentines Day – is truly a day for celebration of the gift of love and the cause of justice. Happy Valentines Day!