When President Obama said these words last week during his second inaugural address, they heralded a sea change in American politics. By lifting up, if only rhetorically, the 1969 Stonewall Riots in the pantheon of great moments in the freedom struggles of our nation, the president gave the goal of LGBT rights the same moral stature as our historic (though still unfinished) quests for racial justice and gender equality. It was the first time in U.S. history that a president used the word “gay” in an inaugural address.
In the week since then, marriage equality legislation has passed the Rhode Island House; a civil union bill has passed out of committee in Colorado; gay rights legislation, including marriage and anti-discrimination bills, has been introduced in Wyoming; a marriage equality bill has been introduced in Hawaii; and anti-discrimination protection has been passed by the Virginia State Senate. It is true that 31 states have constitutional amendments banning gay marriage, another five have passed laws prohibiting marriage equality and 29 states have no anti-discrimination protection for LGBT people – an important perspective to keep in mind. Nonetheless, to those of us who have spent our lifetimes fighting for LGBT equality, this moment has a feeling of momentum and hope. A sense that, in King’s famous words, “the moral arc of the universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
But while it may feel like the U.S. is finally on the road to freedom for LGBT people, it also feels like the UMC is hellbent on being the last institution in America to get on that road. We can perhaps take hope from the fact that Seneca Falls, Selma and Stonewall were reviled by our political leaders before they were revered, and that civil rights progress has come only because of the tremendous courage of popular movements to demand it. And if that is true in civil society, it can also be true in our religious denomination. Indeed, the national marriage initiative movement sparked by MIND’s We do! Methodists Living Marriage Equality is a testament to the convictions of thousands of United Methodists who believe that we can and we must change the church by simply refusing any longer to comply with its requirement to discriminate.
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