March 30, 2014

While I was preparing for today’s service, I was reminded of this joke: What does a lesbian bring on a second date? The punch line: A U-Haul. It’s a joke, yes, but the reason that it’s funny is that there is more than a germ of truth in it. Many women who love other women are willing to commit wholeheartedly to a same-sex partner, early in the relationship, even though that kind of love is forbidden in much of the world.

A little while ago, during the hymn “De Colores,” we sang about “people now taking their place in the sun” and “people who know that their freedom is won.” Today’s service is about celebrating the right of people everywhere to love who they choose to love, without restrictions regarding sexual identity and sexual orientation. Unfortunately, many individuals in Vermont, in other parts of this country, and around the world who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, or queer don’t have a “place in the sun” and don’t “know that their freedom is won.” More than 70 countries have laws criminalizing homosexual conduct.

Consider, for example, a few headlines from recent weeks: “India’s Supreme Court Upholds Anti-Gay Sex Law”, “Idaho Police Arrest Gay Rights Protestors,” and “Gay Rights Group Attacked in Ivory Coast.” In Uganda a law recently went into effect that punishes consensual sex between same-sex couples with life in prison. In Russia, a law was recently enacted that prohibits “gay propaganda.” During the Sochi Olympics, cossacks used horsewhips on members of “Pussy Riot,” a punk rock group that calls for LGBT rights in its song lyrics. The award-winning children’s book that we will hear today “And Tango Makes Three” has consistently ranked high on the American Library Association’s “most challenged” books’ list because it tells the true story of two male penguins who bond at the Central Park Zoo. Like couples in other states, same-sex couples in Michigan are riding an emotional roller coaster as they were banned from marrying, then rushed to marry when a judge ruled the ban was unconstitutional, and then faced disappointment and frustration again as the judge’s ruling was put on hold, preventing any additional marriages from taking place. It would be interesting to see what percentage of same-sex marriages in this country occur at midnight as people hurry to marry before the right is taken away.

While these stories are distressing, they don’t give the whole picture. Other recent headlines include: “Texas Gay Marriage Ban Latest to Be Struck Down in Federal Court,” “How U.S. Businesses Forced Arizona Veto,” “Methodists Drop Same-Sex Wedding Prosecution,” “California Panel Says: End U.S. Ban on Transgender Troops,” and “Jason Collins Set to Become 1st Openly Gay NBA Player.” NFL draft prospect Michael Sam, by announcing that he is gay, could become the first openly gay man in the National Football League. Homophobia in sports is deeply entrenched, so the Jason Collins and Michael Sam announcements mark significant progress in this country. In the past, an athlete who came out of the closet would do so only after he or she had retired from competitive sports. Then, there was the news that Disney has withdrawn its support for the Boy Scouts of America because the scouts refuse to accept volunteer scout leaders who are gay. Mayor Bill De Blasio in New York City did not march in New York’s historic St. Patrick’s Day parade two weeks ago because gay groups are banned from the parade. Mayor De Blasio is the first New York mayor in decades to not march in this parade. Beer maker, Sam Adams, withdrew its sponsorship of the St. Patrick’s Day parade in Boston and Guinness pulled its sponsorship from the New York parade to protest the ban on pro-gay marchers. By contrast, the organizers of the Gay Pride Parade in New York City have announced they will welcome anti-gay marchers and banners in their annual parade. The problematic “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” military policy instituted in the Clinton administration was finally ended. In June of last year, the Supreme Court of the United States overturned the discriminatory Defense of Marriage Act, usually referred to as DOMA. This decision has many repercussions but one small example is this: my spouse, Anne, and I will be able to file our federal taxes for the first time as a married couple. We have been a legally-united couple in the eyes of the state of Vermont for many years, but the federal government has viewed us as two single women. That distinction has caused unnecessary headaches, confusion, and expense at tax time every year. We are thrilled to be treated now by the IRS the same as all of you who happen to love a person of the opposite sex.

The many news stories I mentioned earlier indicate that we live in a time when the LGBTQ community is making strides and, simultaneously, losing ground. This makes it all the more important that we reach out as a community of caring Unitarian Universalists to do all we can to advance LGBTQ rights here in Montpelier and around the world. It’s wonderful that we host a queer youth group here in this church twice a month; it’s fantastic that some pouch contributions last year and this year have gone to support Outright VT, the state’s advocacy group for gay youth; it’s great that we have a rainbow rectangle as a permanent part of our church sign and that we now fly the rainbow flag on Sunday mornings; it’s very special that this is the very first worship service in this church to be dedicated to LGBTQ rights. These are all good things, but there is more that we can do. Progress that we make in Montpelier does reverberate beyond this small town. You are invited to be a part of the ongoing effort to celebrate and make life better for the gay community by joining the Welcoming Congregation Committee. For more information, please speak to Anne Ferguson, Peter Watt or myself.

Oh, yes. If you’re wondering about that lesbian who brought the U-Haul on the second date: She and I will celebrate 20 years together next February.

Nancy Schulz