Wednesday, May 1, 2013

More Steps On the Way to Equality

In Leon County, Florida, we have inched along the road to equality with the start of a Domestic Partnership Registry today.  It was a happy and even relaxed occasion as couples waited under cloudy skies and threat of rain to walk through the door of the Clerk of Courts office and initial here, here, here, and here on the papers to gain seven of the 1,198 rights afforded married couples.

That's right: seven civil rights.  Couples who register, be they straight or LGBT, will be granted the ability to make emergency health care decisions for their loved one, be the point of contact when there is an emergency or serve as the guardian if their domestic partner is incapacitated; visit in the hospital (or jail); participate in the educational lives of the couple's children, and can be responsible for making funeral arrangements in case of death.  These are all important and very helpful.  I have been with friends who, in mourning and grief over the death of their partner, were not allowed to have any say about the disposition of the body or the funeral arrangements until the deceased partner's family had been contacted.  And when there is discord between the surviving partner and the family who wasn't too keen on this whole "gay thing," you can imagine the agony in that situation.

I'm grateful to the county government for doing what they could do given our state constitution, Florida statutes, not to mention the federal Defense of Marriage Act.  The laws, specifically and pointedly targeting the LGBT community, have hemmed us in to such an extent that we're lucky to get anything at all.  The commissioners who were on hand for this morning's inaugural registering of the couples are aware that what they've done with this DPR is given us a slice of bread, and not the loaf we would like to have.  Or, as I noted after Morning Prayer today, I feel a bit like the Syrophoenican woman looking at Jesus and saying, "Even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from Israel's table."

Morning Prayer, on the saint day of Philip and James, was a perfect prelude to today's festivities.  The collect for these two disciples reminds us that they were given strength through God "to bear witness to the truth." And that is exactly what I, and others with me, before me, and even in the years to come after me, have been doing: bearing witness to the truth of who we are, whom we love, and how we are part of the creation that keeps unfolding before us.  And we keep bearing this witness, over and over, in our work places, in front of governmental bodies, both secular and religious, and our families. 

Being that witness is a long slog through unbelievable muck at times.   In fact, I had hoped to be able to use the prayers that are part of the newly-approved same-sex blessing rite in the Episcopal Church as a way of celebrating those couples who planned to register their relationships.  However, I received word back that, because the Bishop of Florida has not authorized usage of that rite, I was to refrain from using any part of it. Instead, I could let people have intercessory time in the service to offer up their own prayers and thanksgiving... a practice we already do in Morning Prayer. I wanted something more special.  The words from the reading from the Book of Job felt very real to me:

Today also my complaint is bitter...I would lay my case before him, and fill my mouth with arguments.

I feel a bit like a broken record when I say the church in general, and the Episcopal Church in specific (especially in Tallahassee), could do a lot to atone for the sins of the church in the way it has treated the LGBT community.  One of the things it should be doing is outreach and making concerted efforts to show the gay community that they are really welcome in our houses of worship.  We shouldn't be concerned with whether or not they'll become "members" or "pledge units." The first step is to let them know that they can come as they are, and find rest from the chaos and demands of the world.  And that no one is going to condemn them to hell for being gay, something too many of us have had to endure.  Doing something simple, like a service in which we honor the events that have meaning to our lives and relationships, like registering our partnerships with the county, is part of that outreach.  That really was my intent in wanting to use the prayers this morning.

But he knows the way that I take;
when he has tested me, I shall come out like gold.

 My foot has held fast to his steps;
I have kept his way and have not turned aside.

 I have not departed from the commandment of his lips;
I have treasured in
my bosom the words of his mouth.

I sought advice from my spiritual director on how I could honor this occasion at our weekly service. She pointed me to the "Prayer for Families," #45 and suggested I make some revisions.  And so, in addition to the other collect read at this service, I included the following words:

Almighty God, our creator, redeemer and sustainer of life, who grants us the gift of human love and intimacy.  We commend to your continual care the homes in which your people dwell.  Put far from them, we ask, every root of bitterness, selfish desires and arrogant pride. Fill them with faith, virtue, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness.  Knit together in constant affection those who, in commitment to one another, have made a covenant known to you. Turn the hearts of parents to the children, and the hearts of children to their parents; pour out your Holy Spirit upon their relationships, and so enkindle fervent charity among us all, that we may evermore be kindly affectioned one to another; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

I then offered a prayer for those who suffer for the sake of conscience because many are still in that boat. And there are those of us who are not in prison for our beliefs, but we suffer for the sake of conscience nonetheless.

Sadly, there were none of the LGBT couples of St. John's, or anywhere else, present for this service.  But there were some new people who showed up because they are allies and survivors of the horrible years of homophobia that gripped St. John's in the late 1990s up to 2005.  For them, this was an opportunity to offer up their prayers for the community on this joyous day, and support the LGBT people they've come to know through the church and elsewhere.  I know I carried their energy with me as I walked down the street to the ribbon-cutting ceremony. 

As my partner and I stood listening to the speakers, I thought about the distance we've traveled in  Leon County to get to a day like this. We've had outrageous battles over movies and video stores.  Pipe bombs at night clubs.  And countless laws adopted by the state legislature across the street that feel like a thousand paper cuts.  But now, in our county, we have a human rights ordinance that includes sexual orientation and gender identity and a domestic partnership registry.   The overcast skies felt about right.  It wasn't storming, but it was still gray.

"Dark clouds will break up if you will wake up and live," are the lyrics of the Ella Fitzgerald song where I got the name for this blog.  They'll break up eventually.  With God's help, and our willingness to remain true to being instruments for Love in the world... and in the church.

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