Editor’s note: The following reflection on the U.S. Supreme Court decision last week on the Defense of Marriage Act was offered by the Rev. Robert Hensely, priest at Grace Episcopal Church, at the conclusion of his sermon last Sunday.
I want to take a couple of moments before we go on with the service and share with you some current thoughts of mine, after so many years of so many thoughts on the subject of marriage which received a lot of press in most parts of the country this last week. As most of you know, this ruling on DOMA affects Michael and me at a very deep and personal level.
First of all: Marriage is not a political act; it is a human one. It is based upon love before it is rooted in law.
Same-sex marriages have always existed because the human heart has always existed in complicated, beautiful and strange ways. But to have them recognized by the wider community, protected from vengeful relatives, preserved in times of sickness and death, and elevated as a responsible, adult and equal contribution to our common good is a huge moment in human consciousness and in this, our great American experiment.
It has happened elsewhere, of course. But here in America, the debate has been the most profound, lengthy and impassioned. This country’s democratic institutions made this a tough road to travel, but it also gave us the chance and the time required to persuade the country, which I believe for the vast majority of our people, we have done.
I understand and respect those who in good conscience fought this tooth and nail. I am saddened by how many failed to see past elaborate, ancient codes of conduct toward the ultimate good of equal human dignity. I am reminded of the courage of a man like Evan Wolfson [executive director of Freedom to Marry and author of Why Marriage Matters: America, Equality and Gay People’s Right to Marry] and so many thousands of others like him, who had the vision and determination that they could in fact change the world.
But this has happened the right way — from the ground up, with argument, with lawsuits, with cultural change, with individual courage. I remember being told in the very early 1990s that America was far too bigoted a place to allow marriage equality — just as I was told, along with many of you in 2007 that America was far too bigoted a place to elect a black president. I for one believed neither proposition, perhaps because I love this country so much I knew it would eventually get there. In the face of all evidence to the contrary at times, I have always trusted the system. And it worked. From the Stonewall riots in 1969 to today is less than half a century. Amazing, when you think of how long it took for humanity to even think about this deep wound in the human psyche.
So to those who are often tempted to write off America’s ability to perfect its union still further, to lead the world in the clarity of its moral and political discourse, and to resist the pull of fundamentalism when it conflicts with human dignity, let me just say: I believe. I believe.
And I believe because I have seen. And I am proud to be an adopted citizen of this amazing commonwealth in our welcoming and inclusive diocese, and a priest of this church.