Saturday, June 27, 2015

Marriage? Not Quite Yet

Yesterday's U.S. Supreme Court ruling striking down bans on marriage of gay couples across the country was welcome news to me and my husband, still on vacation in Europe after the Affirmation conference in London last weekend. After spending a few days in northern Germany visiting friends, we are back in London just in time for Pride. Happy coincidence... I expect to see many Londoners today celebrating this happy news for their gay, lesbian and bi brothers and sisters across the pond.

In fact, we are noticing that Pride in London seems to be a city-wide celebration, as it was when we experienced Pride in Stockholm a few years ago. When we arrived in Liverpool Station late last night on our return from Bremen, there was a huge banner welcoming the LGBT community to London. We're seeing rainbow colors and posters celebrating LGBT equality all over the city. It feels wonderful to be in a place where straight people seem to consider the well-being of their LGBT brothers and sisters, friends, family and neighbors as something they need to both support and celebrate. We are all interconnected, aren't we? Doesn't misfortune that affects any one of us in some sense affect all of us? When one rejoices, shouldn't we all rejoice? This is a profound spiritual principle.

It is apropos this principle of interconnectedness that I'm reflecting on the Supreme Court ruling and the responses to it.

The announcement of the ruling of course (no surprises here) inspired protest as well as celebration. Political and religious leaders, citizens and laity alike have expressed their opinion that the ruling is not constitutional. They insist that laws and court rulings cannot make marriage, ordained by God, what it is not. A number of the states most affected by the ruling (states where bans on same-sex marriage were still in place) still have majorities of citizens who are opposed to same-sex marriage. There's still a lot of rhetoric flying about "freedom of religion," which makes me wonder -- since this ruling does not affect religious communities' ability to self-determine what, within their faith context, constitutes marriage -- if we will see a backlash in the form of discrimination (formal or informal) against same-sex couples, especially in regions of the country that are still bitterly opposed to any form of recognition of gay relationships.

I agree there is, indeed, a sense in which marriage cannot be legislated, though my understanding of that sense is likely different from my conservative brothers and sisters who still oppose my right to be "married" to the man I have shared my life with for almost 23 years.

Marriage has always been a kind of coming together of the entire community to publicly recognize (and hold accountable, and celebrate) a couple's desire to create family. Marriage is like money. It is only good to the extent that people put their faith in it. Let's imagine a town in the U.S. where the majority of residents and business owners believe that the American dollar is worthless. The U.S. dollar is legal tender whether they believe it has value or not -- that's the law. But nobody in town will accept U.S. dollars. Instead, they've set up some local system of barter. So anybody arriving from out of town will find it impossible to buy goods or services with the U.S. cash or credit they carry in their pockets. As a gay American, I still face the reality that while recognition of my marriage is now the law of the land, a significant minority of Americans -- and in many locales, majorities! -- do not recognize it.

This isn't a new situation for Americans. Formal legal equality for black citizens in the U.S. has existed since 1870, when the 15th Amendment was passed. And of course, the U.S. has been a paradise of equality for blacks ever since, right? And the answer of course is not at all. Equality, in a very real sense, is not equality until it becomes tender that is not just legal, but that is accepted by our entire society.

Utopian pipe dreams, right? Have Americans ever achieved that kind of unanimity in their love and care for one another? Not really. But that doesn't prevent that this kind of community is an ideal expressed in our highest religious yearnings. In my own Mormon faith, we call it "Zion." Other religious have other words for it. "Heaven" maybe?

My church issued a statement reaffirming (in case anybody doubted) that this Supreme Court ruling has no effect on the Church's teachings and practices in relation to marriage -- which exclude me and my husband.

For me, this poses a profoundly spiritual problem, a problem that cannot by fixed by court rulings. As a believing Mormon, my highest yearnings include fellowship with God that includes bonds of family that endure in eternity. You indeed can't legislate that.

I wouldn't be where I am today with my husband if I didn't have some profound sense of God having called me into that relationship, and God blessing that relationship. But I live with a series of broken connections, with, at best, a sense that my Church's understanding of my role and place within the Church and in the span of eternity remains incomplete. So the Supreme Court ruling is good; it is important; it is even, in some sense, profound. But for me it is at best one small step in what is yet a very, very long journey, a journey in the scope of which the entire history of the United States is a very small thing.


Duck said...

Hi, John. My comment here has nothing really to do with this post. I didn't remember your email address, so I am writing to you here. I just recently read something you wrote (I'm not sure exactly when?) It is titled "chapter 14, sexual terrorism." I knew most of your background before I read this piece. I had not known the extent to which church leaders had helped drive you away from the church. Knowing you now, knowing how much you love the church, in honesty, it hurt to read how glad you were to be away from the church. I know how you feel now vs how you felt then, I understand why you felt what you did. I was just taken aback, in surprise, of how glad you were to be away from the church. I hope that whati am even writing makes sense. I love you, I love your faith, I love your testimony. Please don't be angry with me for my reaction to what I read. I do understand why you felt what you did. Duck

John Gustav-Wrathall said...

Thanks, Duck! So nice to hear from you... Sorry I didn't notice this comment till just now. My email is

Yes, I read that piece now with a sense of awe at the journey. We're all still on a journey -- one that doesn't end with the end of this life. So when I remember what I wrote then, I can say we can never know for sure where someone's journey is going to take them.

At that time, I needed to leave the Church... My joy is tenfold at finding my way back in some sense, though the journey back is still not complete.