Thursday, October 29, 2009

A Year Later and Where Are We? A Look at Organizing for Marriage Equality in California

Guest blogger Rev. Roland Stringfellow is the Coordinator of the Bay Area Coalition of Welcoming Congregations, which is a program of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry located at the Pacific School of Religion in Berkeley, CA.

November 4, 2008 – a day history was made. Crowds gather around their television sets waiting for the poll results to come in. A collective breath was held. Parents were holding their children’s hands in anticipation. Celebrations were ready to go. Then the results of the vote were announced – Proposition 8 had passed in California - the shock, the utter disappointment, the insult. Human rights were not being gained, but stripped away from a class of people in one of the most “so-called” progressive states in the nation.

"California? Really? California took away same-sex marriage?”

What followed was the blaming and shaming – of campaign organizers, African-Americans, Mormons, the Catholic Church, and people who attend religious service more than once a week (according to the exit polls). The divide between us grew larger though the democratic process of voting.

Here we are a year later and where do we find ourselves in the fight for marriage equality in California? Two major camps debating on whether to return to the ballot in 2010 or 2012 and we have to ask ourselves the question, “Have we learned from our mistakes?” Are egos and attitudes being altered in order for power to be shared and different voices heard? Has a clear strategy been created and presented? And what about our motivation – are we still angry and humiliated from our loss a year ago that we are planning to return to the polls with revenge? (“I’ll show you who is a second class citizen.”)

Those of us who are engaged in organizing within faith communities have our own concerns. Whatever the strategy will be for moving forward to regain marriage for all people, we want to see a strong progressive faith message to be a part of the next campaign to counteract the evangelical/religious right arguments made against LGBTQI families.

A progressive reading of sacred texts looks at the story from the perspective of the marginalized and how to give dignity to God’s creation. For example, 1 Samuel chapter 16, verse 7 tells us, “God does not look at the things we look at. We look at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart." And Acts 10:15 reads, "Do not (emphasis added) call anything impure that God has made clean." Do not call anything impure, or abomination, or pervert, or freak, faggot, tomboy, he/she, twisted that God has made clean. In other words, do not reject anything that God has accepted and God HAS accepted what was created.

We know from John 3:16 that God has a fierce love and acceptance for everyone and with God there is no east nor west, no divisions, no categories, and no sub-classes. Marriage equality is a “no-brainer” for progressive people of faith because it gives gay and lesbian couples and their families the dignity they deserve.

There are many wonderful, hard working individuals who are putting their hearts on the line as they strive to make our world a more accepting and loving place for LGBTQI people and to make marriage equality a reality for us all. If our goal is to repair the divisions that exist in our society as we work for equality, we must examine and ask ourselves, “Do divisions exist within our movement for equality”?
“We would love to have a Latino/a on our board, but we don’t know where they are? We would love to have a gay Catholic or gay Mormon to help us with messaging to the Catholic and/or Mormon Church, but do any exist?”
The answer is “Yes.” Many of us are waiting to be included and to contribute to the movement for equality. One of the best ways to work towards inclusion is to recognize every human being has value. If we sincerely value others (even those who are different from us), then inviting diverse voices to the decision making table will not be so difficult. Also, those wanting to be invited to the table must take the responsibility of stepping up and speaking out in order to be known. If we, as LGBTQI people want acceptance from the communities we live in, then we must first begin to model that acceptance and look for ways of being inclusive within our own movements.

I really am an optimist, but I feel we will have a repeat of a defeat at the polls if we cannot agree on a solitary strategy and remain on point with our messaging. Attempts have already been made to try to get as many people to a decision making table as possible and the results were not that great. Well, if at first you don’t succeed … Let us not think working towards equality will be easy or popular. Some have paid with their very lives to see people with differences holding hands in unity.

On November 2 of 2009, many faith congregations will be opening their doors to allow people from their community to come and pray for unity and healing from the November 4, 2008 passage of Proposition 8 and to stand in solidarity with our sisters and brothers in Maine and Washington state who will be facing similar efforts to repeal marriage rights for same-sex couples. “Keeping the Faith for Equality” interfaith worship services will be held in multiple communities throughout California so people of faith can hold hands with marriage equality activists as we begin to show a different picture of what working together looks like. May we, who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, intersex, queer or questioning, be the very ones who model for our community and world what it looks like to be loving and accepting of those who are different from us

Keeping the Faith for Equality

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