What a fascinating backdrop to have as I witnessed today the first-ever blessing of a same-sex couple in, of all places, Bainbridge, Georgia, under the authority now granted by the Episcopal Church for such happy occasions to occur in their diocese. Two women, who have a flash-in-the-pan relationship of a mere 19 years, held a ceremony surrounded by their friends in a parishioner's home. My partner and I were the official wedding crashers. We'd been invited by my spiritual director who was the assisting priest at the ceremony. It was lovely. It was warm. They used Eucharistic Prayer C, (y'know the one with the "vast expanse of interstellar space" language) that jettisoned my mind back to my childhood in New Hampshire. And it was a pleasure to be present, and be in a community of people lifting up this couple in their relationship. This is how a blessing within the church should be. Georgia law does not permit people of the same gender to marry; however nothing should stop a church from honoring the commitment a couple wants to make to each other. Church blessings and civil marriage rights are not the same thing. So, in this instance, the state can go stuff it.
And so a new thing has happened in a part of the country where the "old way" still rules the roost.
It also comes as news has filtered out about the death of one of the earliest pioneers for marriage equality. Richard Adams and his partner, Tony Sullivan, applied and received a marriage license from a county clerk in Boulder, Colorado, named Clela Rorex in 1975. Rorex had been issuing wedding licenses to gay couples when she learned through the district attorney that nothing in Colorado law strictly forbade it. Adams and Sullivan had been in a relationship for four years, and wanted to be married not just for love, but for the practical purpose of protecting Sullivan, an Austrailian native, from being deported. After getting their marriage license and having a ceremony in the Unitarian Church, the couple immediately applied with the then-Immigration and Naturalization Service for Sullivan's residency. They got back a one-sentence answer from the government agency:
"You have failed to establish that a bona fide marital relationship can exist between two faggots."
Adams sued the INS in 1979, and thus began a lifetime of struggling for recognition of their rights as a married couple. What he and Sullivan... with the help of Rorex... began was the heralding of what was to come. And while Richard Adams died on December 17th, he was able to live long enough to see President Obama put a halt to the break-up of LGBT families through deportation, and to witness the changing times in this country on marriage equality. Adams is one of those who was announcing that a new thing was coming, and it was time to bring down mountains and lift up the valleys, so that we might all be on the same level field in our relationships.
His life and witness with his husband are part of the reason an Episcopal congregation in South Georgia will now celebrate the same-sex relationship of two church members.
The tune that has been on my mind for a few days now ended up being our recessional hymn this morning. I think it quite nicely sums up my feelings on a day of witnessing the new things occurring in the midst of the old:
Tell out my soul, the greatness of the Lord!
Unnumbered blessings give my spirit voice;
tender to me the promise of his word;
in God my Savior shall my heart rejoice.
Tell out my soul, the glories of his word!
Firm is his promise, and his mercy sure.
Tell out, my soul, the greatness of the Lord
to children's children and for evermore!