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Banning a Loving Marriage is Wrong
Deacon Karla Sanborn, Milwaukee MCC

Twenty-eight years ago, Rev. Troy Perry, founder of our denomination, conducted his first same-gender wedding ceremony in Los Angeles, California. And though same-gender marriage had no legal standing then, as it has no legal standing now, from that day forward, UFMCC clergy have performed the rite of holy union for LGBT people who want their relationship to be blessed by God and witnessed friends, family and community.

Nothing the President, the Congress, the Courts, or the State of Wisconsin decides will stop lesbian and gay Americans from falling in love and getting married. Oscar Hammerstein said it best: "Love and marriage go together like a horse and carriage. You can't have one without the other."

Millions of lesbian and gay Americans live together as married couples, in loving, committed, long-term relationships. Every year, thousands of new same-gender marriages are being performed (overtly and covertly) not just by UFMCC clergy, but also by enlightened and courageous Protestant ministers, Jewish rabbis, and even Catholic priests as well.

Our country has a history of protecting minority rights and resisting discrimination, but we have not always done this willingly, and rarely quickly or easily. Look how long it took women to get the right to vote, and how long it was before civil rights were given to people of color. For this reason, we need everyone’s help in this present struggle for equality. The scripture today reminded me of it and the vote next month made this sermon a necessity.

If passed, the “marriage” amendment would mark the first time in recent history that the State of Wisconsin Consitiution would be amended to legalize discrimination, rather than extend rights to people. Remember this used to be a progressive state, where at one time, equal rights for LGBT people were far ahead of other states.

This proposed amendment not only seeks to discriminate against same-gender couples and families, it would nullify existing domestic partnership and civil union laws, that grant equal rights to gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgender people. Our proposed law will affect all people gay and straight. Not only would it outlaw gay marriage, it outlaws any legal status that is “substantially similar” to marriage. If you wonder about the implications for both same gendered and mixed gendered relationships look at this.

In states having already passed a ban on civil marriage things are already beginning to change and not for the better either.

In Utah, a man is claiming the ban invalidates a restraining order taken out against him by his spouse, and there is a group suing to overturn Salt Lake City’s Domestic partner policy, arguing that it mimics marriage and therefore is not legal.

In Ohio judges have dismissed at least 15 cases of domestic abuse in both gay and non-gay cases citing they were not married. Also in Ohio a lawmaker that supported their ban is suing the university system to end domestic partnership benefits.

In Michigan the Governor has ordered domestic partner benefits to be removed from contracts for state workers, a school district is being sued to remove the benefits, and the Atty. General has ruled that existing domestic partner benefits cannot be renewed in future contracts.

If this law passes here we will be taking giant steps backward. Wisconsin cannot be added to this list. In fact, anyone who, for whatever reason chooses to live together as a family unit will be affected by this amendment.

I believe that at least half of those who in opinion polls say they oppose same-sex marriage do so with very limited information or consideration. That is because most lesbian and gay people have not talked to their families and friends about this issue. If we remain silent, then we are the ones to blame for their uninformed opinions.
One of the reasons we are silent might be because our own community has great ambiguity about the issue of marriage.

Marriage, in its present form, has rightly been seen as a flawed and, generally, sexist institution. Many in the LGBT community do not want to buy into an institution that historically has been based more on property rights, than love, and an institution that is so seriously flawed.

A minister traditionally asks “who gives this woman to be married to this man?” Women were historically regarded as the property to be given and received. The idea behind a dowry was that a father paid a man to take his daughter off his hands. Little wonder we want no part of that system.

Since the time of Ruth and Naomi, and of David and Jonathan, people of the same gender have made sacred covenants of love. So why do we need the state’s approval of our relationships now?

Well, in this country there are over 1,100 civil protections afforded legally married couples that are not available to same-sex couples.

Hospital Visitation: mixed gendered married couples are considered next-of-kin for the purpose of making medical decisions and hospital visitation. With my own eyes, I have seen long-term partners excluded from their dying lovers’ hospital rooms because they were not legally family. I have seen a partners wishes for medical care for a much loved spouse overruled by what was legally “his family”, even though he had not had anything to do with them for years. I believe that would affect Norm and Chuck. When Chuck was recently in the hospital, Norm was denied access. That brings it close to home.

Final Decisions: The legal protection of marriage is the only way to ensure we get to make ultimate decisions for our loved ones upon their death. The way things are now, even if Rev. Lew had a spouse at the time he died, all final decisions would have been made by his 80 year old mother, or worse a sister he really didn’t ever see eye to eye with.

Social Security Benefits: Married couples receive Social Security payments upon the death of a spouse. Yet despite paying the same taxes, lesbian/gay couples do not receive a penny, regardless of how many years they were together. That could affect every single one of us sitting here today.

Health Insurance: Many corporate or government employees are able to provide health insurance to their husband or wife, but most same-sex couples don’t receive this benefit. Even if a company does provide domestic partner benefits, the same sex partner is forced to pay income tax on the value of the insurance. And as we heard, a state where a gay marriage ban has been put in place, any domestic partner benefits are in jeopardy. If Allan’s partner, Dr. Kelly, didn’t also work for the medical college, this would be an issue that would be of concern to you. For all of us, health insurance coverage for our loved ones is a major concern.

Estate taxes: A married person automatically inherits all the property of his or her spouse without paying taxes. A gay or lesbian spouse must pay estate taxes, as if they had received an inheritance from a stranger. God forbid that one of us should die, but it happens, and we should not be penalized for a lifetime of commitment.

Retirement Savings: A married person can roll a deceased spouse’s 401k funds into an IRA without paying taxes, but a lesbian or gay American who inherits their partner’s 401K can end up paying a tax liability as great as 70% of the money they spent their lives saving. Gee, Jeff, that would be a heck of a loss of your hard earned money.

Family Leave: Married workers are legally entitled to unpaid leave from their jobs to care for an ill spouse. Gay and lesbian workers have no such rights. Many of us knew Mavis and Chris. Mavis was one of our founding members. When she was dying of cancer, her partner, Chris was at the mercy of her employer to allow Chris time off work to care for Mavis. I talked to them several times a week and know firsthand the frustration of Chris almost losing her job a few times because she had decided Mavis needed her more. She needed to be there in the early days of chemo and the later days when Mavis could barely get from the bed to the commode chair without help. If FMLA were available to Chris, it would not have even been an issue.

Nursing Homes: Married couples have a legal right to live out their last days together in a nursing home. Lesbian and gay couples have no such protection at the end of their lives. And. laws protect married seniors from being forced to sell their homes to pay for the cost of their partners’ nursing home care. Same-gender couples have no such protection.

Pensions: After the death of an employee, most pension plans pay survivor benefits, but they only pay a legally married spouse. The gay or lesbian partner of a life-long employee is left with nothing. Mark, if you had a partner then, and something would happen to you, it would really not be fair that your survivor would get nothing.

This list could go on, but I hope you see that this is an issue with significant implications. This amendment will affect everyone sitting here today, each and every one of us. And I would remind you that these are civil rights which are being denied to American taxpayers. Regardless of how someone might feel about the religious issues surrounding marriage, this is a matter of discrimination.

Back in the 70's there was a poster that hung in many progressive churches that said Ordain women or stop baptizing them!

The point, of course, is that there are no second-class Christians. Well, there ought not to be second-class citizens either, so I’m proposing this poster: Marry gay people or stop taxing them!

The truth that I keep trying to communicate to people is simply this: Our church has been marrying same-gender couples for years. We have married hundreds of couples. No one has died, civilization has not come to an end, and the institution of marriage has not been harmed.

We have been known to marry mixed gender couples and same gendered couples. We used the same ritual, exchange the same rings, and say the same vows. The only difference is that mixed gendered couples walk out of church with about 1,100 civil rights and protections that the same-gendered taxpayers don’t get.

That is discrimination, and it has nothing to do with what the Bible says and doesn’t say about marriage.

But let’s talk about that for a moment while we are on that subject.

What is the biblical model of marriage anyway?

Is it one man, one woman, one lifetime?

There are many models of marriage in the Hebrew Bible, including polygamy, concubines, handmaidens, purchasing of wives, and spouses that accompany political alliances to name a few.

In the gospel reading today, we hear Jesus rebuking the divorced.

Over the past few decades, we have been guided by grace and reinterpreted the teachings of Jesus in our modern context. Yet, when it comes to a topic about which Jesus said NOTHING, most churches remain legalistic, punitive and primitive in its thinking.

In our conversations with family and friends, it might be helpful to raise the issue of what Jesus said about divorce:

And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for unchastity, and marries another commits adultery. Matthew 19:9

Except for the most legalistic and fundamentalist, few Americans believe that divorce is sinful, unfortunate yes, but divorced same gendered couples are not treated as sinners, though these words appear in red in the gospels, as the words of Jesus.

Churches interpret these words because the world is different than the one in which Jesus spoke. That’s how it should be, but why is that different from same-sex couples asking for civil rights for their relationships?

The whole issue of same-gender marriage is about justice and fairness, but what you so often get are irrational arguments like:

Q Isn’t marriage really for the procreation of children?

A Does that mean older people beyond childbearing age shouldn’t be allowed to marry?

Q What’s wrong with civil unions? Do you have to call it marriage?

A During the civil rights movement we learned what was wrong with “separate but equal.” It is rarely equal. In this case you can have a civil union in Vermont, but it is meaningless in Texas. Civil unions don’t address the hundreds of Federal rights being denied same-sex taxpayers.

In talking to our families and friends, I think there are two keys to being successful. First, we should listen to their concerns. If we can, provide additional facts and information that are helpful. Ultimately, though, it is difficult to argue with an irrational fear.

In the end what is most critical is for you to tell them your own personal story. They need to hear why this matters to you, how it makes you feel to be treated like a second-class citizen.

Your story is something no one can argue with. In the end, we are counting on a verse from the Bible being true. I John 4:18 says: Perfect love casts out all fear!

We are counting on the love of people who know you to overcome their irrational fear of change. Ultimately we serve a God who says: Behold I make all things new!

Who knows, if we live with faith rather than fear, that same God may make marriage new, for both same and mixed gendered couples, by making us all take it more seriously and understanding what it reall
y means. AMEN



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