I was caught off guard on Friday, June 26 when the Supreme Court ruled in favor of same-sex marriage. I knew the court was considering the case. I’d read several predictions that the ruling would be what it turned out to be. But when the ruling was announced, and when I read the last paragraph of Justice Anthony Kennedy’s decision for the majority, I was shocked.
I was shocked by how much I cared. How tight my throat got and how many tears flowed when I first read the decision. How I read that last paragraph over and over through the course of the day, and every time had to wipe away tears. How even now, I choke up thinking about it.
Looking back over the last few years it can seem that society’s movement toward acceptance of LGBTQ rights, and ultimately of same-sex marriage, happened quickly. It was only two years ago that Washington became the first state to uphold same-sex marriage by a vote of the people, after all. Some things have changed very rapidly. But over the course of my life, and the lives of many my age, the journey to acceptance has seemed much longer and slower.
As a child growing up in the middle of nowhere I didn’t even know that homosexuals existed, let alone what they were and how they lived. I knew I was different from those around me, that I just never seemed to fit in or understand what I was supposed to do in social settings, but I was a senior in college before it finally sunk in that I was gay.
Even then, I had few role models that I related to. I went to a few gay bars, dated a few guys, attended a Pride parade or two. But I didn’t identify with the “gay lifestyle” very much. I preferred quiet times spent with close friends to frenetic nights in the clubs. What I wanted most was one other special man, who would accept me, love me, complete me.
Those around me had other ideas. When I came out my parents were thoroughly confused, but they wanted to be supportive. My Mom’s love never wavered. “You are our son,” she said. That was that. But to some family members, and to some of the loudest mouths in the Evangelical churches my family attended, I was an abomination.
It’s a funny thing about being called an abomination. Lily Tomlin once played a bag lady named Trudy, who had a great line. It went something like this, “I love being considered insane. It gives me an enormous range of acceptable behavior.” Well the same can be said of being considered a thing that causes disgust and hatred. Pretty much anything goes.
It took me decades to understand myself, and finally to learn that I have a constructive part to play in this crazy, wacky, wonderful world we share. Seattle First Baptist was the first place where I was accepted just as I was. Not just tolerated. Not taken in assuming I’d “get better.” But accepted, celebrated, challenged to contribute, depended on. At church I met the love of my life, and over many years we managed to navigate the often-choppy waters that finally brought us together as a married couple, husband and husband.
But all of that happened before June 26. Why did the Supreme Court’s decision mean so much to me?
I got a hint from the first chapter of the oldest Gospel, Mark 1. It tells the story of Jesus’ baptism. As he came out of the water, he saw the heavens opening and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice called out: “You are my Beloved, my Own. On you my favor rests.”
What a validation! An expression of belonging. No matter what happened next, Jesus knew who he was.
That’s what it felt like for me to read Justice Kennedy’s words. They told me who I am, and what I have longed for my entire life. They told me that I belong, not just in my home, or in my church, but even in my country, in these United States of America.
Here are those words:
No union is more profound than marriage, for it embodies the highest ideals of love, fidelity, devotion, sacrifice, and family. In forming a marital union, two people become something greater than once they were. As some of the petitioners in these cases demonstrate, marriage embodies a love that may endure even past death. It would misunderstand these men and women to say they disrespect the idea of marriage. Their plea is that they do respect it, respect it so deeply that they seek to find its fulfillment for themselves. Their hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right. The judgment of the Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit is reversed. It is so ordered.