Marriage Equality Day in D.C.!

This morning, I watched with about 300 other people as Mayor Adrian Fenty signed the bill legalizing same-sex marriage in the District of Columbia. I watched from the pews of my own church, All Souls Church, Unitarian, as D.C. City Council members called the bill a victory for civil rights, human rights, and religious freedom. The ceremony made it abundantly clear that people of faith stand overwhelmingly for marriage equality. This bill does not in any way impede those whose faiths do not solemnize same-sex marriages from practicing their religion, and it allows clergy all over the District of Columbia to solemnize unions for their congregants of all sexual orientations.

For Unitarian Universalists and many others, marriage equality is an expression of our deepest values of fairness and justice for all. Although I have celebrated other victories for equality in the past year, I wasn’t prepared for my own emotional reaction to the council’s vote and today’s bill signing. Something shifted inside of me, and I was in tears. I realized that until this week, I didn’t truly believe that I would ever live in a place where I could marry another woman. I had taken for granted that I was in a fight that I could never win. It feels so much more urgent for me now to work for a day when I don’t have to worry about losing my rights if and when I move to another city. It seems even more ludicrous to me than it did before that some people have the right to marry and others are still waiting.

I left the ceremony with renewed hope and a renewed commitment to full equality for bisexual, gay, lesbian and transgender people. Of course, equality encompasses so much more than the right to marry – it includes things that many of us take for granted – like being able to use the bathroom safely, the right to comprehensive healthcare, inclusive sexuality education, safe schools, the right to do meaningful work, and so much more. The road ahead of me seems long and full of twists and turns, but if it is paved with victories like today’s, I will be blessed indeed. If you are as grateful for this day as I am, please take a moment to send a thank-you note to the D.C. City Council members whose support made this day possible.

(Rev. Rob Hardies holding one of the pens Mayor Fenty used to sign the bill.)

DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality

Below are the remarks of Rev. Rob Hardies to his congregation, All Souls Church, Unitarian, upon the unprecedented gathering of Washington, DC clergy today in support of marriage equality. It was truly a blessed and spirit-filled gathering. Leaders from all three UUA affiliated congregations in the District of Columbia have reached out to bring clergy together from within and outside of the denomination for this important work. The fruits of their labor of love – the text of the new coalition’s declaration of religious support for marriage equality – is reproduced below. Over 100 clergy and religious leaders, including the ministerial staff at All Souls, the Washington Ethical Society, and the Universalist National Memorial Church and other UU ministers residing in DC have signed the declaration.

Dear Friends,

An historic and spirit-filled event took place today deep in the heart of Anacostia.

At 11:00 am, a multiracial group of over 50 clergy gathered at Covenant Baptist Church to declare our religious support for marriage equality for same-gender couples. In addition, we were able to announce that in the last 7 days alone, more than 150 DC religious leaders–of all faiths and denominations, and representing every ward in the city–have signed our declaration.

The event was covered by all the local television stations, as well as the Post and other print media. Be on the look for coverage this evening and tomorrow.

Afterward, the clergy who gathered said they’d never seen such a religiously, racially and ethnically diverse gathering of clergy in this city. And we all were amazed that it was THIS issue that brought us all together. Each of us felt as though we’d experienced a special and holy moment.

That holy moment was a gift to this city from our church. Many, many people played a role in making today happen, but All Souls played the leading role in organizing this coalition. As I said in church on Sunday, everything in our history as a congregation has brought us to this leadership role: our legacy of prophetic justice-making, our identity as a congregation that is diverse both racially and in terms of sexual orientation, our location at the crossroads of the city, and, most importantly, the store of “solidarity capital” that we have built up over years of working side-by-side with others for justice.

I believe that the cause of equality for gays and lesbians is, along with the struggle for immigrant justice and the on-going struggle for racial equality, one of the defining civil rights struggles of our generation. As in previous generations, dating back almost two centuries, All Souls will take a leadership role.

I’m grateful–and I know you are too–to be part of a church that has repeatedly stood up for justice, and never failed to stand on the side of love. Thank you for making our ministry possible.

Declaration of Religious Support for Marriage Equality

We are District of Columbia clergy and religious leaders of many faiths, races, ethnicities, and sexual orientations. We represent religious institutions in every ward in the District. We have worked together over many years for peace and justice and now join our voices again to speak a faithful word for freedom and equality.

We declare that our faith calls us to affirm marriage equality for loving same-sex couples.

Our religious traditions and scriptures teach us that wherever love is present, God is also present. One of God’s greatest gifts to us is our human capacity to love one another. The ability of two people to enter into relationships and form families of love and care is one expression of this gift. It is holy and good. We therefore affirm the right of loving same-gender couples to enter into such relationships on an equal basis with loving heterosexual couples.

We recognize that there are principled differences on this issue within the religious community. We affirm that the state should not require any religious group to officiate at, or bless, same-gender marriages. However, the state also should not favor the convictions of one religious group over another by denying individuals their fundamental civil right to marry whom they love.

Recognizing that there is heartfelt disagreement on this issue, we call on all people of the District of Columbia to engage in a respectful and loving dialogue on marriage equality. As religious leaders, we commit ourselves to such a dialogue and encourage our colleagues on all sides of this issue to do the same.

God is love and love is for everyone. In this spirit we raise our voices in the struggle for the right and freedom to marry.

You can read more about this story in local press coverage, and on npr.org.

The 2009 Transgender Religious Summit

Yesterday I was privileged to co-lead a workshop for the National Center for Transgender Equality’s annual Religious Summit and Policy Conference at All Souls Church, Unitarian. This year, for the first time, the Religious Summit is being held in conjunction with the organization’s lobby days in Washington, DC. Adam Gerhardstein from the UUA Office for Advocacy, Steven Baines of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice and I spent the morning with about 20 brave and dedicated transgender religious leaders, their family members and friends discussing the basics of lobbying and the important impact that people of faith can have on public policy.

Conference participants also attended the church service on Sunday at All Souls, and it felt wonderful to work with this group of passionate leaders and to welcome them into the sanctuary that I am learning to call a spiritual home. I feel deeply blessed that my congregation truly strives to be a place for all souls who seek refuge there.

During Sunday afternoon’s keynote address at the conference, Kate Bornstein spoke of the pain that arises when people of diverse sexual orientations, gender identities and expressions, particularly transgender people, are not seen as legitimate members of their own religions because their lives and appearances do not seem to match up with traditional religious expectations. Kate has coped with this exclusion by continuing to do the work that is required of all Jews: performing mitzvahs. According to Kate, a mitzvah is an act that fulfills the Jewish commandment to do God’s work by selflessly helping others who are different from you.

In my experience, Unitarian Universalism welcomes me as a whole person and a “real” member not just despite, but because of my queerness. I have been blessed and lucky to encounter others who see my unique existence and perspectives as cherished and sacred. People in my religious community have never made me feel less or wrong because of who and what I love or desire. I am also deeply aware that many of my fellow humans have not experienced the same welcome. I feel an obligation, as a member of a religion that claims to affirm and promote the inherent worth and dignity of every person, to work towards the day when our Unitarian Universalist institutions and congregations truly reflect our radically inclusive and justice-seeking values. We have worked hard, but much remains to be done.

I’ll step down off of that soapbox for the moment.

Today, the 150 or so participants in the Religious Summit and Policy Conference combined lobbied on Capitol Hill sharing their personal histories, stories, and their conviction that everyone deserves full and equal protection under the law in their communities and workplaces. They are asking their members of Congress to support the Local Law Enforcement Hate Crimes Prevention Act (LLHCPA) and the Employment Non Discrimination Act (ENDA).

Take action today, and add your voice to theirs.