I serve as pastor to the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor, a church with a long history of supporting justice and equity in our community. We who serve congregations often find it a humbling experience for we know it has little to do with us; it has to do with serving something greater than ourselves.
But alongside that humility there is pride. Not personal pride, but pride in the congregation, which actually is living out the real principles of our faith. In other words, I am proud of my congregation for “walking their talk.”
In April, before the state Legislature’s passage of the equal marriage bill, my congregants unanimously passed a resolution in favor of same-sex marriage. It required courage to take a stand that is outside the norm of what is considered traditionally religious. _
congregation did so with great verve and energy, having discerned that the issue was and is about equity and justice and love. These are principles that we as Unitarian Universalists promote.
As a minister, I get to listen to many stories of suffering. Some, quite honestly, are uplifting, while others wrench my soul. Earlier this year, I spoke with an older woman (whom I will call Betty, although that is not her real name) in my congregation, who told me a story that broke my heart. She is a lesbian and had been in a committed relationship with her partner for 20 years. Her partner had a heart attack in a public place. Betty quickly called 911 and the ambulance whisked her away to the hospital. It did not look good.
Betty followed in her car and when she arrived, she was not allowed access to her partner because she was not a relative or next of kin. Betty and her partner had legally arranged for all of the appropriate paperwork that would allow access during this type of crisis, but they did not carry that paperwork with them all of the time (would you?). No amount of pleading could get her into the hospital room where her partner laid all alone. Betty ran home, got the paperwork, sped back to the hospital, but sadly her partner had died — alone, without the partner who had loved her for more than 20 years.
To make matters worse, the hospital would not allow Betty to make arrangements for the service of memorial; only the next of kin would be allowed to do that, even with the signed paperwork.
What is just or caring or compassionate about this story? The love that two individuals shared for a score of years was denied because they had not been married, for they could not marry based on the laws in Maine. No domestic partnership agreement would have changed that situation. It didn’t.
This isn’t just about the law, it also is about the love which is such a precious gift from the Divine in our lives. It is about the institution through which we can honestly, freely, authentically say that we love and cherish another human being enough to care for him or her, to take responsibility for him or her, and to be there when needed. It isn’t about gender. It is about love.
And, for me, God is love. God isn’t about negativity or judgment. God is about being there for us and about the positive energy in our lives. God is about compassion and caring. God is not about denying love. Why would we want to deny any human being the right to promise to care for another in a relationship we call marriage?
I, for one, from my faith perspective believe that marriage is a religious covenant for a couple, regardless of gender, who make a sacred promise to love and cherish each other. It is also a civil promise, which carries both responsibilities and protections. In Maine alone, there are more than 400 protections that accrue to a married couple that single folks (even those in domestic partnerships) don’t have.
Marriage is a sacred institution; it is an important ceremony performed within the confines of a place of worship. The new Maine law says that if a faith institution chooses not to see marriage with that same perspective, they do not have to perform that wedding. But I am proud to say that in my Maine congregation, we will be marrying same-gendered couples as soon as we are legally able to do so. Let me say that will bring me great joy.
While this column (Voices) is not intended to be about political issues, but about the religious and spiritual perspectives of the authors, this issue — equality in marriage — is not only a political one, it is also a deeply religious one, for it is about how we treat our fellow humans, about loving them as we would love ourselves. It is ultimately about love and allowing others to receive the benefits of that love combined with its responsibilities.
I, along with my congregation, support the right of couples regardless of gender to marry if they wish to do so. Please consider God’s love when you consider this issue.
The Rev. Becky Gunn is minister of the Unitarian Universalist Society of Bangor. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. Voices is a weekly commentary by Maine people who explore issues affecting spirituality and religious life.