I haven’t been in a very good mood about marriage equality since March 26th. You’d think I should be. When the Supreme Court of the United States heard two cases – The Windsor DOMA case and the Prop 8 case – Facebook turned red, it seemed like the world turned warm and gooey. There was so much love and care and support. You would think it would be an awesome week. And in so many ways it was.
But it was also a gut wrenching week. You see, the stakes are really high for us. Really high.
I attended the Unitarian Universalist Ministers Association Annual Meeting in Louisville KY this week. Rev. Peter Morales, President of the Unitarian Universalist Association, met us for his annual Q&A with the ministers, and one of the things he said was, “In terms of equal marriage, this fight is over because we know how this is going to end.” (my words based on my memory of what he said…. probably not his exact words.) The room erupted in loud cheering and applause.
But I didn’t feel like applauding. I’m wondering if I was the only one. Instead, what I wanted to say was, “Don’t be too quick to say the train has left the station. Hold on.”
And this is why. My gut instinct is that the Supreme Court is going to strike down DOMA. This is going to be great. But I also think they are going to vote as narrowly as they can on Prop 8. Rather than ruling that Prop 8 is unconstitutional (which would strike down every DOMA act and every constitutional amendment in every state that has one and make marriage equality a reality throughout the country), I predict it is going to strike it down on a technicality, which means that it will confirm marriage equality only in California. The cumulative effect of these decisions will mean that marriage will become legal in California and same-sex married couples in states which already practice equal marriage will now be able to enjoy the federal benefits extended to married couples. If SCOTUS does NOT rule that Prop 8 is unconstitutional, it will mean absolutely nothing to those of us who live in the more than two dozen states that have explicitly banned same-sex marriage.
During the proceedings, Justice Kennedy mentioned the children of the same-sex couples in California, and that they deserved to have parents who are married, which I thought was rather big of him. But what about the children in Mississippi and Alabama and Oklahoma and Missouri. What about those children? And what about their parents?
So I’m a nervous nelly. And I’m not optimistic. I feel like I can’t afford the risk of being optimistic and being disappointed.
Three years ago the congregation I serve completed the Welcoming Congregation. This is a process developed by the Unitarian Universalist Association to support congregations in being intentionally welcoming of sexual and gender minorities. It took our congregation ten years to build up the courage to do this program. There was a lot of nervousness when we started the program, but it didn’t come from the usual suspects. It did not come from older heterosexual people at all! You know who was most nervous? People who identified as sexual minorities and were over the age of 50. It was our older LGBTQ folks who felt the most apprehension, and I think I know why.
This generation has experienced explicit homophobia in ways that I can’t even imagine. They were there when the cops busted up their bars and the courts took away their children and they landed in jail and out of a job for being in the wrong place at the wrong time. And no one stood up for them. They took it on the chin, and even though times have changed, many have never completely let down their guard. They still test the waters. They are reasonably wary of supposedly welcome places, like churches with little rainbows on their orders of service, and will often look for signs that it’s not as welcoming as they have been led to believe, because you never know when someone could stab you in the back with a smile on their face. Will the church still be welcoming of you when you hold your partner’s hand in church, or land a peck on their cheek? Will they still be welcoming of you when you talk about the great date you had on Saturday night?
This generation feared that the Welcoming Congregation process would unearth the kind of homophobia that slyly hides under the surface until it’s pricked, the kind of homophobia that masks as something else even though it really still is homophobia. Maybe they would learn that our congregation that really wasn’t as welcoming as it thought it was, and if that was the case, then they might lose their beloved church community. What if doing the Welcoming Congregation program opened Pandora’s box and a place they thought was safe wasn’t? So as much as they really wanted to do the Welcoming Congregation, it scared a lot of them. The stakes felt really high.
This is how I feel right now. For all the expressions of acceptance in mainstream culture, for sea of red that happened on Facebook and Twitter and almost every website I regularly frequent, the fate of my marriage rests with 9 justices, some of whom really don’t like us all that much. And if one liberal-leaning justice gets cold feet and the resulting ruling is as narrow as possible, they are placing our equality, the equality of those like me who live in Missouri, in the hands of a citizenship that is still deeply ambivalent about our right to exist. If the justices leave the definition of marriage in the hands of the states, same-sex marriage is not coming to Missouri for a long time. The only way Missouri will arrive at equal marriage is by being forced into it through the courts.
This is why minorities need mechanisms outside of elected leadership to secure our equality. The majority cannot be trusted to rally for the equal rights of the minorities. We see it time and again. God/dess bless states like Massachusetts and New York and Minnesota. But Missouri is no Minnesota.
So this is why I am a nervous nelly. This is why I felt a sickness in the pit of my stomach when Rev. Peter Morales said, “This battle has been won. We know how it’s going to end.”
When SCOTUS rules next week, and if it turns out as I predict, don’t forget those of us in the remaining DOMA wastelands. Keep fighting for us. Because the battle will be far from over.