There were two major emotional responses that were mine as I read about the official beginning’s of same gender marriages in California. Joy, as I read the New York Times as it described the excitement, energy and enthusiasm  of same gender couples who married and their family and friends, who shared in a significant moment in history. Sadness however, as I read of a United Methodist clergywoman in California who grieved over her inability “to be in ministry” with persons as they prepared for and participating in their “marriage moment”. Some of my most important ministry has taken place as I have done marriage counseling, led a wedding rehearsal and participated in the marriage ceremony of a man and woman. But, actions of our United Methodist General Conference in 2008 and General Conferences before, United Methodist clergy because of church legislation, are denied the right to be in full and complete ministry to and with same gender couples!

But while the United Methodist Church, year after year has denied the legitimacy of civil and marriage unions of same gender couples, in state after state, there is a growing recognition of the meaning of Constitutional democracy. Some persons cannot be more equal than others and none should be denied equal access to the rights and responsibilities decreed by state Constitutions. History reminds us that after a “long night” of denial and avoidance, Constitutional equality triumphed over racial prejudice and bigotry in the USA!  State after state rescinded its legislation that excluded black persons from participating in the rights and privileges granted to all citizens. EVEN, the many states that once had laws prohibiting interracial marriage, were “born again” and eliminated that legislation. If, we as a nation claim to be a Constitutional people, then we must be.

The fourth of July celebrates a nation that came into being believing in the establishment and the protection of the rights of minorities of all kinds. The idea that the voters of California have the right by voting, to exclude same gender persons from access to marriage contradicts that we celebrate on the 4th of July. If states, southern and northern had been given the right to vote on eliminating interracial marriage, we know what would have happened in many states. If the nation had voted on maintaining “separate but equal” public schools, state after state would have voided the 1954 Supreme Court decision.

Martin Luther King asked the question; “Why is the church so often the tailight and not the headlight?” I suggest that even though we in the United Methodist Church speak of “openness” and “making disciples of Jesus Christ”, we have allowed our Bible to be a source of exclusion while Constitutions proclaim a nation of inclusivity. History indicates that Constitutional authority has pushed the Church to do what the Christ of the Church has been unable to do. Affirm in word and deed, the God-given sacredness of every human being. Thank God for Constitutions.

Happy July 4th!

Gil Caldwell

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