Why Legal Marriage Matters

Audra Friend (front) is the Program Coordinator at the Unitarian Universalist Association Office for Congregational Advocacy and Witness. She lives in Boston with her wife, Audrey Fergason.

I have a wide range of pins and buttons decorating the corkboard in my office. My walls are dotted with posters and signs. Even my water bottle is collaged with slogans and logos: Freedom to Marry Coalition, Amnesty OUTfront!, Equal Marriage NOW, and Human Rights Campaign.

But my favorite token of support for marriage equality is the silver wedding ring on my left hand.

As of today, I’ve been married for four months. If you had asked me four months ago if a legal marriage would change anything for me, I would have said no. My wife and I were committed to each other; our families supported us; my work and her school were welcoming communities. Legal marriage seemed momentous to be sure, but I was confident my life wouldn’t change.

I couldn’t have been more wrong.

Moments after my boss, Susan Leslie, who was solemnized for the day to perform our wedding, signed the marriage license, my world changed. My mother cried and hugged my wife – her new daughter-in-law – and my wife’s teenaged cousins crowed that we were now legally connected. My younger brother – who married before me – joked that I was officially a big girl. Surrounded by our friends and family, all who had the benefit of legal marriage, my wife and I found that our relationship had changed in their minds.

Audrey and I feel quite blessed to be in a state where we can be legally married, a sentiment driven home to us when we traveled to New York and North Carolina in January. Even though we happily had no problems, we both realized that despite our wedding rings, our commitment, our families, and our legal marriage, we had no protections as a couple outside of Massachusetts. It was a sobering reminder of how important the fight for marriage equality is and how so many couples in the United States are not as lucky as we are.

All relationships deserve to be treated equally. This week, consider having a conversation with someone about marriage equality. Freedom to Marry offers some conversation starters. If you are married, consider your ring as your token of support for marriage equality and lift up your voice with ours.

Sign the Marriage Resolution

Rev. Ricky Hoyt is a Unitarian Universalist minister, author, and spiritual director serving a congregation in the Los Angeles area. You can read his blog and find out more about his ministry on his website. He is pictured below with his husband, Peleg Top.

I’m not the type to sign online petitions. I don’t add my name to open letters, at least not very often. I don’t forward “this important message” to all of my friends. I seldom call the governor’s office and punch numbers on the automated phone system to register my support or outrage about some crucial issue. I’ve almost never written a letter to my congressional representatives, except in those cases where someone at the social justice table at church has made it ridiculously easy for me.

Spiritually I just don’t want to get that worked up. I have a limited amount of passion and resources, and I don’t want to squander them by keeping myself anxious about everything day after day, week after week. Spiritually I’d rather take a walk outside, enjoy the sunshine, or the rain. I’d rather think about theology than legislation. I’d rather read the newspaper than the latest emotional plea from a non-profit, social justice, advocacy group in my inbox. The truth is I’d rather take a nap than go stand on a street corner with a sign. I’d rather stay at home, sitting on the couch, watching Grey’s Anatomy with my husband.

So I understand people’s reluctance to get involved in the marriage equality movement. It happens to be an issue close to my heart (see the above reference to sitting on the couch with my husband) but I hardly expect the same issue has risen to the top of every person’s social justice agenda. But I’ve also learned something concerning this issue that makes for very effective social justice action and that fits very well with my reluctance to add my name to lists and forward petitions and contact my elected officials.

I’m absolutely convinced that the greatest contribution I have made to the marriage equality movement is that I have been openly gay, openly partnered, and openly in support of this issue. I’ve shown people who know me: my family, friends, people at the church, even sometimes people I barely know at Starbucks and the gym and the barbershop, that I’m a person who knows about this issue and cares about this issue in a personal way because it’s actually about my life, not some abstract principle. I have also, on this issue, taken more deliberative and pointed actions in support of marriage equality. But more effective than any of that, I’ve simply lived my life as a married gay man (sitting on the couch watching Grey’s Anatomy and so on) and whenever it was natural and appropriate I wouldn’t be shy about letting people know about me and see that side of my life.

It’s a lot easier to be against “gay marriage” than it is to know me and be against “Ricky’s marriage.” It’s hard to match any of the rhetorical arguments against marriage equality with the actual experience of knowing me and my husband and who we are and how we live our lives. So I don’t sign online petitions but I do have a website for my ministry where you wouldn’t have to search too long to discover I’m a married gay man, and I’m happy to perform marriage ceremonies for same-sex couples. I don’t sign open letters or forward emails to all my friends, but I am who I am on my facebook page and when I send an email to my friends and it mentions my husband they know who that is and why our marriage is important and worth protecting. I don’t call the Governor very often but I call my folks every week and I ask about their marriage and they ask about mine.

I hope a lot of people are spending this week writing and calling and speaking out and marching or sitting and forwarding and adding their names and so on. God bless you. If you’re the type, here’s a link to an online resolution that the Freedom to Marry folks are encouraging everyone to sign and email to their friends. Do it. I did. It wasn’t too hard and I didn’t have to get too worked up about it.

But also consider outing yourself as a marriage equality supporter and using all the regular places that you call and write and stand and speak out to announce your position on this issue. Don’t shove it down anybody’s throat but find a way to bring it up. “You know I actually know a gay couple who got married last summer.” “I can’t for the life of me imagine how anyone could object to my friend’s marriage.” “My church married a lesbian couple last month and it was beautiful.” Update your face book status to say, “… is celebrating Freedom to Marry week.” Write a blog post about the lesbian couple who lived down the street from you when you were a kid. Get a new bumper sticker supporting marriage equality and stick it over that John Kerry bumper sticker that won’t come off.

Then go watch Grey’s Anatomy.

Freedom to Marry – freedom from fear

Today’s post is written by the Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle, minister of the Bay Area Unitarian Universalist Church in Houston, Texas. He is also a retired naval officer, former university professor, marathon runner, and triathlete. Matt and his wife Gail have two children, Alex (16) and Andy (11).

On Valentines Day, as I have done for several years, I will again co-officiate Houston’s Freedom to Marry wedding ceremony where as many as fifty gay and lesbian couples will get married. Every time I participate in this ceremony, or conduct an individual wedding ceremony for a same-sex couple, I am brought back to the holy in a unique way. Of course, the holy is present at every wedding. To facilitate the public profession of the sacred bond of love between two people is a deep honor and privilege. But to marry a couple whose profession is most often ignored and rejected by society at large comes with additional responsibility and accountability–responsibility to work tirelessly for the day when discrimination is neither legislated by the government nor perpetuated by ignorance–accountability to God and to humanity that all souls are able to live with equal freedoms and without fear.

Whenever I perform same-sex wedding, I say the following:

Although the State of Texas does not yet recognize marriage between same-sex couples, this is in no way diminishes the union we celebrate today. This couple is formalizing their commitment today not before the laws of the state, but before the loving witness of each other, of their families and friends, and before that which is holy and sacred to them in their love for one another. All love is holy. The bonds of marriage are unique that two people, who began their lives apart, find one another and recognize the joy they experience in one another. In our society, the romantic bond of love between two women or between two men is usually received with misunderstanding, fear, and constant discrimination. Love in the face of such obstacles is tested unlike that of most couples. This love has to be even stronger in the face of adversity, this is indeed a sacred bond of a very special love.

And yet, I am saddened every time I say these words because I shouldn’t have to. I am saddened that fear and disdain of the other perpetuates such discrimination. Human beings are naturally afraid of what they don’t understand. Most heterosexuals don’t understand what it means to be gay. I always recommend asking a gay or lesbian person about their lives. If you think you don’t know anyone, think again. They are in your neighborhood, at work, at school, in line at the grocery store with their families, and sitting next to you in church. Most of them will tell you that they are afraid too. They are afraid of losing their jobs, their children, their homes, their extended families and friends, or worse. They are afraid of being the victims of violent hate crimes. Sadly, there is more than enough evidence to support all of their fears. Ironically, there isn’t a shred of evidence to support being afraid of homosexuality or what might happen if marriage was a universal right between two loving people.

I can’t understand why anyone would deny same-sex couples the right to marry. Because they can’t procreate together? Neither can many heterosexual couples, but we allow them to marry. Because homosexuality is a sin? Even if it was, all of us have sinned, and should think twice before throwing stones. But homosexuality is not a sin. It is not a choice. It is not a lifestyle. If you don’t understand this, think about when you decided to be heterosexual. Chances are you never decided. Being heterosexual is simply who you are. Everyone falls in love and everyone should have the same right to solemnize and legalize their loving, healthy, and monogamous relationship. Should we deny same-sex marriage because it threatens traditional marriage? No. Honoring lifelong love and commitment between two people does not weaken, but strengthens, the institution of marriage regardless of whether they are man and woman, man and man, or woman and woman.

Freedom to marry for all loving couples is not only a step toward building a beloved community–it is a step away from the fear that grips our lives.

For those who will respond to this post with their own disdain, using as absolute authority either scripture or research to deny marriage equality (as folks always do when I have the audacity to promote the virtue of love and equality), I ask you to try something different this time. Here are some suggestions:

  • Come to the ceremony on Valentines Day (or go to one in your area if you are not in Houston).
  • Talk deeply with your gay family member or friend (you do have one) about their lives.
  • Go see the movie “Milk.”
  • Rent or buy the documentary, “For the Bible Tells Me So.”

In short, do anything that is an authentic step toward loving your neighbor and loving your enemy as yourself and learning about someone who is different than you before you see fit to condemn them.


Rev. Matt

This entry was reprinted from Rev. Dr. Matt Tittle’s blog “Keep The Faith,” which is hosted by the Houston Chronicle.

Freedom to Marry Week

We are officially kicking off Freedom to Marry Week, February 8th through 14th! “7 Conversations in 7 Days,” sponsored by Freedom to Marry, focuses on the reality that having a conversation with another individual, with your faith community, with your legislator, helps effectively promote marriage equality in your community and nationwide.

From February 8th through 14th, the UUA will celebrate Freedom to Marry Week by posting stories and essays written by prominent Unitarian Universalist ministers and marriage equality activists. If you haven’t already, we invite you to visit the UUA’s Action of the Month website and pledge to take action, including lobbying your elected representatives to promote BGLT equality.

There are so many ways for you to be involved in this event! Visit the Freedom to Marry website for videos about marriage equality, conversation starters, and ideas on how you can make a difference. Start conversations about marriage equality at home or at church, write about marriage equality in your own blog or post your own short video on youtube. Donate your facebook status for the day or week to marriage equality, and invite your friends on facebook to participate in Freedom to Marry Week.
“Standing on the Side of Love,” a video produced by the Unitarian Universalist Association, makes clear that we as people of faith support marriage equality. This video uses images, gathered from Unitarian Universalists across North America who have advocated for marriage equality, been joined in equal marriage, and/or had their marriage officated by Unitarian Universalist clergy.

Check out the video below and please share it with others! The conversations we start this week can create a spiral of influence — encouraging everyone who is touched to stand on the side of love.

What Is Marriage?

In the past few years, we have heard many arguments from the Religious Right concerning the definition of marriage. Many claim that civil marriage for same sex couples will fundamentally redefine marriage in American culture.

After the passage of California Prop 8 and Florida Prop 2, this debate has reemerged in the mainstream media. Many activists have made compelling and moving arguments for marriage equality. And some have even cited precedent for how redefining marriage has happened in the past and has made our nation better. In the past, marriage was a business arrangement between fathers. In the past, slaves were not allowed to decide who they got to marry, if at all. In the past, interracial marriage was illegal. In each instance, the social and legal definitions were fundamentally changed. And our nation has become more just for it.

But my favorite definition of marriage has come from a furry blue monster and a little boy. In this definition, we see that marriage has nothing to do with gender or sexuality. It has to do with love, commitment and support. This is what activists of civil marriage equality are fighting for. And I cannot think of anything better to be fighting for.

Standing on the Side of Love, with a broken heart

Flying to Boston yesterday, I set aside my usual tendency to read and stared out the window for some time. A vast field of wispy cirrus clouds created the sense that I could see forever, riding above them. And I thought, as I stared out, how much I take this amazing view and experience for granted, and how other people labored and even died to make this so.

My daughter did a report on the Wright Brothers last year and I learned more about aviation history than I’d frankly ever cared to know. But those scrappy inventors, bicycle mechanics by trade, were also social progressives who worked closely with African Americans to promote equality, and were raised by a bold Mennonite preacher father and feminist mother. I have to wonder: what was the connection between their social values and their willingness, over and over, to hurl themselves into the skies, risking their own safety for a vision of what it could mean to soar?

As I stared out at the skies, I was mulling about the topic of marriage equality. A plane going the other direction was barely visible, tiny at a distance, and with it came Adrienne Rich’s line, “The longer I live, the more I believe two people together is a miracle.” Indeed, what a miracle that in this enormous world, people can find someone whose heart nestles in beside their own! Why would anyone spend their precious lifeforce working to diminish that possibility, when we are in desperate need of more love, not less, to heal our world?

The UUA has created a short video to state clearly that we stand on the side of love. Crank up the sound and enjoy the wonderful music and images! I also urge you to watch Rev. Lindi Ramsden, director of UU Legislative Ministries of California, speaking powerfully at a rally in the aftermath of the election.

Harry Knox, faith guru for the Human Rights Campaign, told me that Lindi was the backbone of all the faith organizing for the No on 8 campaign…that not just UUs but everyone relied on her wisdom, her skill, and her tenacity through this skirmish. “Her name is gold,” Harry told me. I’ve known that for years, but I was proud to learn that so many others know it too.

I am also very proud to say that the UUA has filed a writ petition against Proposition 8, charging that it is a violation of the freedom of our religion, and the religion of other people of faith who hold equality as a central tenet. Episcopal Bishops, UCC and Jewish organizations have co-signed with us. You can see the press release here and the actual petition here. Huge appreciation to hardworking UU lawyer Eric Isaacson whose faith propelled him to author this.

This is a critical time for us to be visible to those people who are hurt and suffering from ballot initiatives created by fear and perpetuated with lies, scare tactics, and ignorance– who are equally hurt by the silence of so many who could have fought it. This is the time for us to be clear and vocal as we stand on the side of love and justice.

– Rev. Meg Riley

Video in Support of Marriage Equality

In light of the recent passage of Proposition 8 in California and similar measures in Arizona, Florida and Arkanasa that restrict the rights of bisexual, gay, lesbian, queer, and transgender (bglt) people, the Unitarian Universalist Association has produced a video which makes clear that we as people of faith support marriage equality.

The video uses images, gathered from Unitarian Universalists across North America who have advocated for marriage equality, been joined in equal marriage, and/or had their marriage officated by Unitarian Universalist clergy.

Check out the video below and please share it with others!

What can you do to support BGLT rights?

Last week, same-sex marriage was banned in California, Arizona and Florida, and an adoption ban was placed on same-sex couples in Arkansas. The passing of these ballot initiatives is a devastating loss for BGLT communities and the nation.

The passage of California’s Proposition 8, which removed rights previously granted same-sex couples by the Supreme Court, has spurred large-scale protests across California. This Saturday, protests will occur across the country in support of BGLT equality and the No on Prop 8 campaign. To find out where a protest is being held in your state visit jointheimpact.com.

Three lawsuits are being filed in California to overturn proposition 8 on the basis that it is unconstitutional since the California constitution offers equal protection under the law. The National Gay and Lesbian Taskforce Action Fund has also created a sign-on letter called the “Anger into Action Declaration” for those in support of BGLT equality to sign.

As Unitarian Universalists, we believe in the inherent worth and dignity of every person. I hope you will take the time to put that principle into action by signing the “Anger into Action Declaration” and attending a protest near you. Make sure to take pictures of your group and send them to us here at the Washington Office for Advocacy along with your story email- la_bglt@uua.org

Ruminations on California Marriage Equality

When I came out in 1977, there was this really old lesbian couple, Del Martin and Phyllis Lyons, who had been together forever. Or so it seemed then. More than thirty years later, I’m close to their “really old” age, and they are legally married in California after 55 years together.

Sometimes justice takes a while. Del is now 87 and Phyllis is 84. And yet the interviews say that they are happy, not bitter, that after 55 years together they will have the same rights as heterosexual couples can get in Vegas after knowing each other two hours. It’s that positive outlook and their love for each other that’s kept them going all this time.

I wept this morning when I logged onto the computer and saw their elderly forms being joined in holy matrimony. Images like that are what we’ll be promoting through UU information sources as well; happy couples together at last as legal entities. They remind me that it is love, indeed, at the heart of every longterm commitment.

People asked me after Massachusetts, and they’ll ask me again now I’m sure, if my partner and I are considering marriage. My answer is probably not. Kendrick and I met in 1979, and it was pretty much love at first sight. We basically ruined each other for anyone else and assume that this is it for life. We had a commitment ceremony in 1991 at Arlington Street Church in Boston, and since we live in Minnesota it would not tangibly change our lives to go back and do it again, this time legally.

Frankly, now that I’m ‘really old,’ my desire for marriage equality is not particularly about romance. It’s much more basic and economic. I want the federal benefits that California and Massachusetts can’t offer even their own residents, much less me! Kendrick has a chronic illness. Last year she had to quit work early in the year. She earned only $3700 all year and my work supported our family. Unfortunately $3700 is $200 more than the $3500 cap by which I could claim an ‘unrelated person’ as a dependent on my taxes, so I could not. Nor could I deduct about $11,000 of her medical bills. It was as if I had just stood on the corner and thrown that money at a passing stranger.

Likewise, she is ineligible for SSI, the social security benefits which she could get if she were single, because I am supporting her. Yet, should I die tomorrow, she would not receive a cent of my survivor benefits because we are legally single.

The news about California will be about weddings, and celebration, and fun. That’s as it should be. But as our country’s economy continues to fail, same gender couples will bear an extra burden. The survival of our long term relationships are no more about tuxedos and gowns and cakes than anyone else’s. I am acutely aware as I write this that I am a very privileged lesbian—I work for a place that could not be more supportive with both tangible and intangible measures, I have a graduate degree and white privilege—three things that mitigate against the economic suffering which others know from far more dire circumstances than I do. I am not meaning to whine here!

But my feelings are mixed. Even through my tears of happiness for them, I’m aware of the tangible tax, healthcare, and other benefits that Del Martin and Phyllis Lyon and other same sex couples still cannot offer to each other, even if their marriage is now legal in California. The journey ahead is still long, and Kendrick and I may be in our eighties before we know full equality. May our love and positive outlook sustain us, as it has so many others.

And, Phyllis and Del, Mazel Tov!!!!!!!

Congratulations California!

Last week the California Supreme Court overturned a California state law which only allowed marriage between a man and a woman in a 4-3 ruling. The decision will allow same-sex couples to marry starting June 14th.

California is the second state to legalize same-sex marriage. This is a huge victory for California and the country as we move forward during this election year. The California Supreme Court has historically set a precedent in their decisions. California was also the first state to allow inter-racial marriage in 1948 in Perez v. California which led to other states following suit and the U.S. Supreme Court decision Loving v. Virginia in 1967.

People all over the nation have been celebrating this historic moment. I for one am extremely proud of my home state and look forward to attending the marriage ceremonies of many couples in my home town church in Palm Springs.

While we have a great deal to celebrate we must not forget that the fight is not over. As I wrote earlier in my post “Stopping the Religious Right from Taking Over California” 1.1 million signatures were submitted for a ballot initiative that would constitutionally ban same sex marriage. The signatures are currently being checked and by June we will know if the initiative will be on the November ballot.

It is imperative that we keep the momentum from this joyous decision going into the November election to ensure that Californians continue to have equal rights under the law.