Religious Freedom and Judge Roy Moore

(I was asked to speak at the No Moore Rally today at the Alabama Supreme Court Building in Montgomery, AL.  Judge Roy Moore was being tried on six out of seven ethics violations when he urged Alabama Probate Judges to disobey US Supreme Court Ruling on the constitutionality of Same Sex Marriage. Here is what I said.)

We have been standing here for quite some time now awaiting the verdict that Judge Moore is found guilty of violating the Supreme Court orders to enforce marriage equality in this state. Judge Moore believes that he is above the law of the land.  He believes he is called to impose his brand of religion onto the citizens of this state. He believes that his brand of religion is the one true faith, that he has the pure and unadulterated interpretation of the Hebrew and Christian Scriptures. That all other interpretations of these sacred texts are heresy and therefore should be purged from the state of Alabama.

However, Judge Moore does not live in a country where only one religion is declared the official government religion.  Where only one interpretation of that religion is sanctioned. Where other religions are persecuted.

The United States does not have an official government sanctioned religion.  Here we have religious pluralism and the promise of religious freedom for all religions to not only be practiced but to have their rituals protected and recognized by the Government. This protection is found in our nation’s most sacred of texts, a text that Judge Moore vowed to uphold in his role as judge.

From the Declaration of Independence:  We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all people are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness—that to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among people, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –that whenever any form of government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.

Preamble of the Constitution of the United States. We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.

Constitution of the United States, 1st Amendment:  Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof, or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

Constitution of the United States, 14 Amendment, Section 1.  All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States; nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.

It is from these documents that I stand here today to proclaim that my faith, which teaches me to love one another, no matter who you are or whom you love is to be respected under this constitution.  My religion, while a minority religion in the state of Alabama, has under the US Constitution the legal and moral authority to have its marriages recognized by the government of these states.  This right has been denied the members of my faith and other faiths for decades.  It was a right that was finally recognized by the Supreme Court as being fully constitutional.

Roy Moore and his ilk want to deny people, who do not agree with his religious faith, their rights as citizens of these United States. The followers of his religious faith are not hindered in any way by the practices of those who follow another faith or who follow no faith, just as my faith is not hindered in any way by the practices of his.  Where hindrance occurs is when followers of his faith demand that I and others adhere to his faith tenets.

In countries where there is one sanctioned religion his approach would be legal but here in the United States all people are free to practice their faith.  All people have the right to pursue happiness.

But here is thing; Judge Moore’s faith doesn’t even follow the tenets of his religion. His professed religion is Christianity.

Jesus declared that for his followers, and I am reading from the King James version, Thou shalt love the Lord thy God with all thy heart, and with all thy soul, and with all thy mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like unto it, thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Judge Moore violates this commandment. He is not loving his neighbor.  His behaviors show no respect for the diversity of his neighbors.  His behaviors show only contempt which goes against his very faith which insists on following the author of love, by doing unto others as you would have them do unto you.

I feel sorry for Judge Moore.  I do.  Truly.  I feel sorry for him because he has no love in his heart.  He has walled himself off from knowing the freedom that divine love gives to each of us when we are willing to be embraced by that love.  He is afraid. And in his fear, he attacks others who have found the freedom that love bestows.

That love for one another is expressed in the Christian Scriptures of Galatians 3:28. Here is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.

We do not need to be afraid of each other any longer because when love is present, when love is placed at the center of our hearts, the need to separate us into categories falls away.  The desire for ensuring mutual respect of our differences rises to the fore.

But Judge Moore has not experienced the very redemption his Christian faith teaches him.  Redemption is more than just reciting a few words on a page.  And the Redemption I am talking about is not just in the life to come, but redemption in this life. Freedom in this life which our founding parents of this nation in their wisdom codified into law—the redemption of being able to have life and the pursuit of happiness.  He does not know this redeeming love.  He only knows hatred for others who not only are different than he is, but have found happiness and love through that difference.

He is going to need a bit of a nudge from today to be told once again, that he does not have the right to enforce his hatred onto the citizens of Alabama.  He does not have the right to impose his version of Christianity onto the citizens of Alabama—who have found the power of love through other Christian denominations, through Judaism, through Islam, through Buddhism, through Baha’i, through Sikhism, through Taoism, through atheism, through humanism, through Jainism, through Wiccan, through indigenous faiths, and yes, even through my faith, Unitarian Universalism.

Judge Moore, you have betrayed the trust of the state of the Alabama by violating our most sacred creeds as a nation.  Not just once, but twice.  You must be removed from office this day.  And you cannot be allowed to serve a public office again because you have proven yourself as not being able to hold the people’s rights above your own interests and agendas.  Perhaps one day you will realize that Love is Love and that all people have the right to experience love and have that love recognized by the government.

Advertisements

An Open Letter to Chief Justice Roy Moore

 

29 April 2016

Dear Chief Justice Moore:

As a citizen of Alabama, I am rather disappointed in your press conference comments.  Not only did they portray the events on January 12th incorrectly, they expressed defamation of character of a private citizen.

The facts are Ambrosia Starling did not officiate a wedding on January 12th.  I did.  I am an ordained minister in the Unitarian Universalist faith and serve the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa. It is part of my religion to honor and bless the covenanted relations that we enter into and with couples that includes the rites of marriage. I do not do mock weddings. To have my faith honored with recognizing the marriages that I officiate is an example of the religious freedom that this country honors and values since the days of the founding of this nation’s constitution.  It is in the Bill of Rights that the government shall make no law regarding the establishment of religion or the practice thereof.

Yet, for far too long, this country has forbade my religion’s right to solemnize marriages of same gender weddings and have them recognized by the state.  You say this is not about religion, but it is, Justice Moore.  It is.  By denying equal marriage rights, you are declaring your faith doctrines to be supreme over all religious doctrines and practices and that is simply not the American way in regards to religious freedom. Religious freedom means being able to practice one’s religion without fear of government censure. Not being able to have couples’ marriages recognized by the state is a form of government censure of religion. For you to declare the wedding I officiated a mockery is a show of profound disrespect of the religion I serve as minister. A religion whose American roots date back to the founding of this nation.

The bills being passed under the guise of religious freedom are privileging a certain sect of Christianity.  It does not represent the whole of Christianity nor does it protect any other religions’ practice.  It is sanctioned discrimination against anyone whose faith does not align with this branch of Christianity. This is not religious freedom.  It is religious oppression.

I am authorized by my church and faith tradition to officiate marriages of same gender couples. The marriage I officiated on January 12, 2016, included the signing of the marriage license issued by a probate judge in Alabama. That certificate was filed according to Alabama statutes and a marriage certificate was issued the couple recognizing them as a married couple. If this marriage was illegal and in defiance of your order as you claim, then I would have expected the probate judge to not have issued the license. Further, I would expect that if this was illegal that you would file charges against probate judges who did not follow your order, making every probate judge who has issued licenses accountable to your ruling.  But you have done no such filing and therefore, you have not enforced the law as you claim exists. Why? Because you know you have no authority to overrule the US Supreme Court ruling that lifted the ban on same sex marriages.

But that is not what you stated at the press conference.  Instead you claimed the complaints were an attack on your character. You claimed you were a victim of the media misrepresenting your orders.  Then you made defamatory statements insinuating the mental instability of a private citizen. You are not a licensed Mental Health professional, therefore you have no authority to diagnose or even publicly speculate on the mental health of another person.

As a judge in the attempts to answer complaints on your defiance of a US Supreme Court Ruling, you have once again violated your own profession’s ethics by making these inflammatory statements against a private citizen. It was an attempt to discredit Ambrosia Starling’s and other’s complaints against your ethical conduct.  It was an attempt to inflict injury on Ambrosia Starling’s reputation. I see you.  I see what you are trying to do and it is offensive, not only personally offensive, but offensive to the citizens of this state.

You defended your orders based on the Alabama Supreme Court ruling which by your own quoting the US Constitution at the press conference revealed that it was over ruled by the US Supreme Court. Your own words convict you. Yet, you insist you are in the right. You have shown repeated disregard for the US Supreme Court which ruled that the bans against same sex marriage are unconstitutional.  Your own colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court do not side with you in this matter. In fact, your colleagues of the Alabama Supreme Court dismissed on March 4 of this year, a challenge to same sex marriages made by some probate judges and a conservative policy group. The Alabama Supreme Court is adhering to the US Supreme Court ruling.

You state your orders are still in effect.  Yet, even the Alabama Supreme Court by their dismissing the challenge declare your orders are not in effect any longer. If they were in effect still, then they would not have dismissed the challenge to same sex marriage. The federal and Alabama state courts have spoken on this matter.  Your legal opinion has been declared unconstitutional by the highest court in the land.  There is no conflict between the courts as you stated at your press conference. They are now in sync.

If you, in good conscience, cannot abide by the highest court in the land then to protect your integrity you need to step down as chief justice. The tide of change is coming to this country. We will finally live up to our highest ideals of liberty and justice for all.  We will no longer privilege one religion over another in this nation.  We will no longer privilege one class of people over another in this nation. We will no longer privilege one gender over another or one sexual orientation over another. We will no longer privilege one race over another in this nation.  Those days are coming to an end. May they come quickly for people are suffering injustices in this land.

Sincerely,

Rev. Fred L Hammond, MS, MDiv

Minister of the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

 

Alabama Creating a Religious Jim Crow

On February 9th, same sex marriage became the law in Alabama. The grandstanding by Chief Justice Moore was a classic Governor Wallace move.  Probate judges refused to honor the federal court ruling. Marriages performed in other states are still not recognized in Alabama. Rev. Paul Hard’s case to have his marriage recognized on his partner’s death certificate continues.

Yesterday, Representative Hill fast-tracked a bill, using the infamous HB 56 nomenclature, that would legalize discrimination against couples whose relationships do not line up with judges religious convictions.  It would legalize discrimination against couples whose relationships are not recognized by religiously owned institutions.  If this bill is passed we could very well be seeing signs at court houses that say: “Straights only.” “Gays not welcomed” “No marriage licenses to divorcees will be issued.”  This bill would allow a judge to discriminate against a person  of a Non-Christian faith if the judge believes his faith is the one and only true faith. It allows the judge to stand in judgement over the Christian faiths that have welcomed and honor sexual and gender diversities as part of God’s universal love and will.  It would allow a religiously owned hospital to deny the partner, legally married, from seeing their spouse or from any consultation to the life and death situations the spouse may be facing.  Governor Bentley has already stated that he would not prosecute any judges that refuse to issue a marriage license to same sex couples, so this bill would essentially codify his intentions.

Imagine the torment already being experienced when a loved one is critically ill and the only hospital available will not allow the partner to see their loved one or to have any input into their medical care.  Imagine the exponential emotional trauma that this law will create for this family. This is what happened 50 years ago here under Jim Crow–it cost the lives of thousands who did not make it in time to a hospital that would treat a person of color.  Imagine a couple longing to experience the joys of parenthood being denied by the adoption agency purely on the basis of their same-sex marriage. Jim Crow is being resurrected again if this law is passed.  This time he wears the clerical garb of the inquisition. This is insulting and outrageous!

Read the bill as presented here.  The hearing is this afternoon at 1:30 in room 429.  A tiny room for a bill that will essentially codify a Religious Jim Crow in the State of Alabama.  We need to pack this room to over flowing to express outrage of this bill.

The original code that authorizes who may perform marriages in the state of Alabama is already Christian-centric.  It is already an offensive statute.  I have only included the language that refers to religious entities. It reads:

(a) Marriages may be solemnized by any licensed minister of the gospel in regular communion with the Christian church or society of which the minister is a member; …
(b) …Marriage may also be solemnized by the pastor of any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society.
(c) Quakers, Mennonites, or other religious societies. The people called Mennonites, Quakers, or any other Christian society having similar rules or regulations, may solemnize marriage according to their forms by consent of the parties, published and declared before the congregation assembled for public worship.

This wording is already offensive. It creates a hierarchy of religious status in the state with Christians as the supreme religion and places Quakers and Mennonites as second class Christians by spelling them out. I recognize that the attempt is to include religious societies that do not have ordained clergy but the wording here is clear, Christians as defined by the State is the state recognized faith.  It is presumed that people are of a particular Christian sect. Sections B and C are afterthoughts.  I suppose section b of the code is meant to include Unitarian Universalists, Buddhists, Muslims, Sikhs, Earth-Centered faiths, Jains, Hindus, etc. Instead it sends a clear message of Christian supremacy.

The better wording to be clearly inclusive of the diversity of faiths celebrated in Alabama would be a revision of section b and have b alone in regard to religious entities.  Marriage may be solemnized by any designated person, so designated by any religious society according to the rules ordained or custom established by such society. period.  Designated person would include the clerk of the Quaker society, it would include the Imam of the Mosque, it would include the Priest of the Roman Catholic Church, it would include the Rabbi of a synagogue, it would include lay-led congregations. It would include all faiths without giving preference of one faith over any other.

But the current wording with the legal discrimination amendment strengthens the stance that the Christian faith, defined in a fundamentalist fashion, is the only faith accepted and recognized by the State of Alabama.  That stance is prohibited by the Constitution of the United States.  And that stance creates a religious Jim Crow law in the state of Alabama.

As a minister of a Unitarian Universalist Congregation, I do not want the members of my congregation to face the discrimination that this bill legalizes.  I do not want the LGBT, Inter-racial couples, and divorced members of my congregation to experience the emotional trauma that this law will create for them.  My faith teaches me that all people are created equal and are endowed with unalienable rights, including the pursuit of happiness with a person that they love and cherish.  I thought this was a common belief among all of our religions.  Sadly, I have been mistaken.

 

Alabama, Equal Marriage is Here February 9th

Alabama is a special breed.  On February 9th the stay that Judge Granade placed on her rulings on two cases that Alabama’s constitutional amendment banning same sex marriage is unconstitutional will expire. The 11th circuit has refused to extend the stay until the SCOTUS rules in June.  The backlash has begun. First we had the the Probate Judge’s Association stating that the first ruling only applied to the couple in the law suit and therefore they did not need to heed her ruling. Attorney General Strange applied for and received a 14 day stay on her decision. Her second ruling clarified she meant the entire state must comply.  Then we have the ongoing chest beating of Chief Justice Roy Moore stating the federal courts have no jurisdiction over the state in matters of defining marriage. And now we have the magistrates and counties stating that they will simply no longer officiate civil unions of any marriages regardless of gender make-up.

“Marriage licenses and ceremonies are not available at the Pike County Probate Office,” the judge’s office said on Facebook Friday afternoon. “Pike County residents who are seeking marriage licenses can do so at any Probate Judge’s office in the state that offers that service and are not required to apply for their license in their county of residence.”

[Pike County Probate Judge Wes] Allen  said in a news release that the decision allows him to obey the law and his Christian beliefs. He cited state law that says marriage licenses “may” be issued by probate judges. “I am choosing to take the Pike County Probate Office out of the marriage licensing business altogether.”

He is not alone.  Several counties in the state are taking similar stances.  And some magistrates have reportedly resigned rather than fulfill the court order leaving a void for Monday’s enactment of the court ruling.

Before this latest protest stance against enforcing same sex marriage, I have been in several debates with colleagues within Unitarian Universalist circles, as well as with gay friendly clergy of other faiths regarding the sanctity of marriage and what we should be doing come February 9th.  Should ministers rush to the court houses to marry gay couples in a civil union when it is not a religious service?   The concern is an ethical one.  Clergy see marriage as a holy union, sanctified by a higher calling and therefore should not be a commitment that one enters into lightly.  They require pre-marital counseling.  The style of counseling varies with faith tradition.

One non-Unitarian Universalist clergy person who has been officiating holy unions between same gender couples for decades stated this is a spiritual journey that requires prayer, contemplation, discernment and the development of a covenantal relationship before entering this path together.  Therefore, on the 9th, they will only sign marriage licenses for those couples who have already under gone a holy union ceremony. This is according to their doctrinal beliefs and the state is merely catching up in recognizing the spiritual reality of their holy covenanted union.   If a couple comes to them on February 9th seeking to be wed in their church, then they will have to under go their traditions prescribed process which takes time. No jumping on the quick-marriage-ceremony-just-because-it-is-legal band wagon.

Many Unitarian Universalist clergy also require some form of pre-marital counseling.  And there have been UU clergy who are concerned with the suspension of pre-marital counseling for same gender couples when equal marriage rights are first enacted. Pre-marital sessions have been used by clergy to get to know the couple and to discern with the couple any areas of potential concerns that might need addressing in order for the relationship to thrive in a legally binding marriage.

I understand the debate.  But here is where I am in my internal debate with myself. There are factors that need to be considered.  I know many same gender couples that have raised and are raising children together. I know many same gender couples who have already spent up to 50 years together. I have a difficulty making a couple that has already proven their commitment to each other over the years  in the face of severe prejudice and down right hatred to go through pre-marital counseling as if this is the beginning of their journey together.  Doing so discounts the reality that their relationship commitment is already further down the journey than most newlyweds. By my denying services unless they jump through our unique hoops is in my mind and heart creating an injustice upon injustice.  Who does this hoop serve–the couple who has been together already through thick and thin or the minister?   For same gender couples already committed to each other for years– my role as officiant is in restoring to them the affirmation that society should have already affirmed.

After this law has been in effect for a few years and those looking to marry have been together for a brief time then yes, I will resume pre-marital counseling for same gender couples.  They are beginning a new journey together and are seeking to deepen the relationship. But it is arrogant of me to insist on this as a requirement of marriage for a couple who already have raised children together and maneuvered through their children’s experience of being taunted for their parent’s relationship.

But we now have counties where courts are saying — ‘fine, the federal courts are making courts give out marriage licenses to same sex couples then this court will not offer the service of a civil marriage to any couple.’ One court said about 42% of the couples receiving licenses have the magistrate perform the marriage. Because I am a minister willing to officiate same gender marriages, should I insist that they have a religious service which includes the pre marital sessions because that is my personal preference religiously?  Especially when they do not want a religious service and a civil service is not being offered to anyone? This is another form of oppressive coercion that is in my mind equally as unjust as Alabama banning same gender marriage in the first place.

Unlike my Non-UU ministerial colleagues, I am not bound by an ecclesiastical doctrine of marriage that requires a series of steps in order for a person to enter into marriage.  I interpret my UU faith to see the sacred in the ordinary.   For me, justice is not served when I mandate a set of religious requirements on a couple who have been denied recognition of marriage status for decades and now have the freedom to marry.  For clergy to do this is what the courts who are refusing to perform civil ceremonies are hoping for. By denying all marriage licenses to couples or denying the service of a civil union is an attempt to prevent same gender couples from getting married because they know that here in Alabama, the majority of clergy will not officiate their weddings as a matter of doctrinal belief.

Yes, Alabama is a special breed.  And I am sure even after February 9th when equal marriage is the law of the state, we will not have heard the end of this.  There will be people who will angrily protest. Judge Moore will  beat his chest some more until he is once again removed for disobeying a federal court ruling.  And the legislature will dream up new ways to circumvent the federal ruling as they have in every federal civil rights issue in the past.  Integration of schools, voting rights, and reproductive rights to name a few.

Alabama, equal marriage is here February 9th!  It is a victory but it is a victory that will come with a price. In Alabama employers can still fire a person for being gay or transgender. If there is any deterrent to marrying on the 9th, it is the injustice of being fired on the 10th.  My willingness as clergy to officiate on the 9th is not going to be one of them.

The Moral Argument

A few weeks back Utah state senator Stuart Reid defended his vote against the anti-discrimination act protecting employment and housing rights of people of gender and sexual diversities.  He stated he did so because he believes homosexuality to be immoral.  In summary his argument was as follows and I quote: “When society, through its government, identifies something to be immoral, it is by definition discriminating against that thing, act or behavior by setting it apart as harmful to society. Under Utah law, something identified as moral receives preferential treatment and something identified as immoral receives discriminatory treatment. … In short, if homosexual activity is not immoral, then end discrimination in all its forms against it. If it is immoral, then government should protect against its harm to society and does not provide special rights in support of it[i].”

Now, as a gay man, I have to protest his claim that I am immoral based on the inherent state of who I am.  But I have to say there is coherence in his argument that I have not seen in recent history of conservative politics.  Frankly, he is making a solid point in how we as a society have operated.

He is correct in stating as a society we have legislated / discriminated against that which was deemed *immoral*.  And as he stated in his response, we either did nothing about the immoral behavior or we sanctioned it without enforcement, or we punished it.  We promoted what society thought was moral and discriminated against that which we considered immoral. Slavery and polygamy were accepted as moral behaviors until the majority deemed it immoral. The reverse is also true in this country. Integration and interracial marriages were considered unacceptable and immoral until the majority deemed them moral.

And we as a country are still undecided regarding the morality of marriage between first cousins.  It is allowed in sixteen states, banned in 25 states, and carries a criminal offense in the remaining states.  Is it moral?  Sixteen states say yes and for the record the majority of New England states and southern states are in agreement in this regard.

The reason given for its being immoral is the possibility of deformed children being born to these unions. Some states require sterilization before such marriages can be allowed. However, these 16 states recognize that the threat of birth defects is only marginally higher between first cousins than between second or third cousins or in non-related spouses.

However, Texas, which instituted their ban against marriage between first cousins in 2005, makes it a felony charge with possible prison up to 20 years.  Conviction of having sex with your first cousin, regardless of marital status, results in registration of being a sex offender.   Being designated a sex offender carries with it an emotionally charged reaction from the society at large as this designation is often used to warn against pedophiles.   Marrying your first cousin is not the same as violating a child, yet the stigma is applied making marrying your first cousin as severe a crime as pedophilia.  Is it therefore immoral behavior?  For us living in a country where the rule of law is held as a moral compass, we have conflated law-abiding with morality.

Conflating the two, however, is troublesome.  What is legal does not automatically equate with what is moral.   It was perfectly legal to have whites’ only entrances and toilets in the early half of the 20th century. It was perfectly legal to have children under the age of 15 work in dangerous factories in the 19th century. It was perfectly legal to outlaw Jews in Nazi Germany and send them to their deaths. And it is currently perfectly legal to define marriage as one man one woman. Are any of these legalities moral?

Just because something is legal or illegal does not make that thing also moral or immoral.  The stronger reason why slavery, polygamy, pedophilia, racist segregation, child labor is considered immoral not because it is illegal but because of the imbalance of power and potentiality of emotional, physical, psychological and spiritual abuse in the relationships. Not only for the one who has no power in these relationships but also for the one in the dominant role.  Consensual marriage with your first cousin does not automatically mean an unequal power dynamic.

And the moral argument is also raised when it comes to a woman’s right to choose.  Society has said, albeit with exceptions, that killing another human is immoral.  The exceptions seem to be acts of war, self defense, and the death penalty.  Even these exceptions have been questioned.  So we now have the dilemma of the unwanted pregnancy.  When does life begin?  When is the fetus a human baby and therefore immoral to terminate?

It is an issue that will probably never ever be fully settled because even within the same dominant religious tradition within this country there are two definitions of when life begins.  The first is the belief that life begins at first breath.  This is referenced several times in the Hebrew Scriptures in Genesis and elsewhere.  The second is the belief that life began before birth with the Hebrew Psalms declaring that one’s destiny was written even while within the womb.

The first supports a theology that humans have agency, free will, the ability to choose and that agency/ that choice began with the infant drawing its first breath.  The second develops a theology that humans do not have agency, that their lives are pre-determined, pre-destined by a god who has already decided who is to destined for salvation and who is destined for eternal damnation.

The first supports that the woman also has agency, free will, the ability to choose and create her destiny.  The second supports that the woman does not have agency. She is only a vessel for her offspring, the continuation of the species and any greatness she may achieve is through the fruit of her womb.   There are sacred and poetic texts extolling the womb of Mary, the mother of Jesus.  Her value is only in the fact that she gave birth to a long awaited heir to the throne of David, a messiah, a king.

The followers of the theology that people have agency would say that the woman needs to enter pregnancy willingly and knowingly of the consequences of nurturing a child.  Therefore if she becomes pregnant against her will or does not for her own reasons believe she can accept or support the consequences of pregnancy she has several options to choose.  She may opt to support the pregnancy and raise the child or offer the child into adoption, or to terminate the pregnancy.  The fetus inside her is not a human being until it can draw its first breath or other wise be viable outside of the womb.   And should she choose to have an abortion; the theology declares no shame in that decision.

The followers of the second theology would declare the rights of the fetus supersede the rights of the vessel that carries it.  To end the pregnancy they argue would be in violation of one of the Ten Commandments, thou shalt not kill.  Murder we have already stated has an exceptions clause but this apparently is not one of them. Those advocating Personhood rights at conception state that terminating a fertilized ovum would be murder punishable, at the very least, by a long prison sentence and depending on how the laws are written possibly by capital punishment-the death penalty.  Those who protest against abortion tend to add the stigma of shame into the equation for those women who made a choice to do what nature does over 75% of the time[ii] with all conceptions.   I would argue that personhood bills create an unfair power dynamic over the woman, restricting her ability to have agency in her life just as slavery, polygamy, pedophilia, racist segregation, and child labor restrict the ability of agency for those trapped in such situations.

There is one more piece of the puzzle regarding determining what is moral.   Does morality come from within or is it imposed by some outside force, say a deity or a government?

Those who argue for an end for a woman’s right to choose also tend to argue that morality is imposed by an outside force, namely a deity.  The belief again is that humanity has no agency to determine its path.  Therefore, without the presence of an all judging god, humanity will of its own chaos reduce itself to immoral behavior as normative.  The argument therefore states that Humanity / society must therefore be constrained by outside forces be it governmental or be it a deity.

Unitarian Universalists have long argued that within each person is the agency to choose the best path.  Given the options, the pros and the cons, the parameters in which they find themselves a person will be able to make the best decision specific to their circumstances.  Making decisions that are morally sound are not easy tasks.

Is morality universal or is it relational?  Or is it a combination of the two?   I suggest that morality is indeed both universal and relational.  All of our world religions have some form of the Golden Rule, which implies some universality to what may define moral behavior.  I would love for people to treat me with shrimp and caviar so in my desire to be so treated I decide to treat others with shrimp and caviar; yet there are people that if I offer them shrimp and caviar it is as if I am offering them death because they are allergic.  So the universal does not always work in the specific.  It would be better if I who love shrimp and caviar offer an assortment of foods that can be chosen freely by others.   There are no absolutes in the specifics of living day to day.

I would question my friends who had to have their god observe absolutes.  My friends would state that abortion was always the wrong choice, no matter what.  I would ask them a question. Is god a loving, compassionate, god?  Yes, they would answer.  What if in god’s loving compassion towards a young woman who was so wounded from living in a sexually abusive home that to have a child at this time would only ensure that the child would be equally wounded.  Would that god allow an abortion as being more merciful to the young woman than to have her endure a pregnancy and have a child that she in her wounded state does not have the skills to raise?  They were never able to see god being merciful in such a manner.  They were never able to see god being gentle with this young woman and grace her with a chance to heal the scars of spiritual and physical violence before becoming a mother.  In short, they could not accept that even god might show mercy when they could not.

If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? For even criminals love those who love them. And if you do good to those who do good to you, what credit is that to you? For even criminals do the same. And if you lend to those from whom you hope to receive back, what credit is that to you? For even criminals lend to criminals to receive as much back. (Luke 6 Fred’s paraphrase)

Blessed Be.

 

The Moral Argument by Rev. Fred L Hammond delivered on  14 April 2013 © to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa


Independence Day

“Independence Day” was delivered on 4 July 2010 © by Rev. Fred L Hammond to the congregation of Our Home Universalist Church, Ellisville, MS

I wonder if the founding parents of our nation 234 years ago were to visit today, would they be pleased with what they have wrought into being or dismayed.   It has often been a spurious argument to attempt to state the intentions of the founders of this nation regarding this or that argument.  Yet, we try to do so regardless.

And while the temptation to speak as to the intentions of our founders is fraught with false renderings, incomplete records, and gaps in understanding, I will endeavor to attempt to sift through the chaff of time to reveal the kernels of truth that have endured as central to our democracy and American dream.

Three of our most sacred national documents reveal a mind-set of the responsibility of government that all people should enjoy.  The Declaration of Independence from Great Britain decreed, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. That to secure these rights, governments are instituted among men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed. That whenever any form of government becomes destructive to these ends, it is the right of the people to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their safety and happiness.[1]

The preamble to our Constitution states, “We the People of the United States, in Order to form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence [sic], promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, do ordain and establish this Constitution for the United States of America.[2]

And during the most trying of time in our union, the Gettysburg Address declares “that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom—and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.[3]

I wonder if our forebears who wrote these words would recognize our government today as seeking to fulfill these ideals or would they weep and gnash their teeth in despair?  I fear the latter yet I am filled with hope.

These words from these sacred texts of our government have been subjected to a wide variance of interpretation.  On the extreme right we have a libertarian interpretation where the basics of our constitution would be fulfilled with the bare minimal government action.  General Welfare would only be defined as keeping our borders safe from invasion and therefore provisions for social security, Medicaid, welfare, aid in times of disaster and the controversial and still yet to be realized universal healthcare is not part of this definition. The libertarian viewpoint would be that the people out of their charitable and religious convictions would themselves provide these services either through their religious affiliation or through the founding of non-profit entities which would also be funded by people.  What wasn’t provided through these means would then be sought through private enterprise at a cost to those who could afford it.

We have examples of these already throughout our nation.  We have non-profit and for-profit hospitals and clinics.  We have public and private education from pre-school through the post-doctorate level. We have non-profit and for-profit social services for the mentally and physically challenged.

On the left extreme we have a socialist interpretation where the government is the provider of the common good.  We have examples of these as well in our nation.  We have social security and Medicare for our retired seniors.  We have railroads and interstate highways that are maintained by the government for ease in transportation. We have Welfare assistance for the disabled.  We have state police to protect and serve.  We have firefighters and public libraries. Our public education ensures a standard of education for all citizens.

There is a wide spectrum that falls in between these two poles of political thought and a few more poles from different angles criss-crossing these poles including economic overlays of how business is conducted and what roles government has in regulating business enterprises.  How does the government “promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity” in regards to economic theories of capitalism and free market enterprises versus nationalized industries?   Who is included in these “blessings of liberty” when corporation business practices are involved?

When corporations are able to influence elections with unrestrained financial contributions who benefits from such a practice?  When banks are given free reign to extort funds from the average consumer, knowing that consumer does not have the ability to pay the mortgage, how does this promote the blessings of liberty?  When stock markets are given carte blanche to gamble their clients finances through hedge funds and default credit swaps and then when it all collapses to bail the markets with taxpayers funds, how is this promoting the general welfare of a nation?  Independence is a rare commodity in today’s corporate economic climate.

It is the question of how a country can fulfill the pledge of the declaration of Independence, the preamble of the constitution and a government by, of, and for the people that continue to be at the heart of the debate that is raging in our nation today.  These questions of independence were never quite answered by our founders.   It is a question that needs to be answered by every generation anew.  How to fulfill this ideal is our most pressing question for this generation.

Into this mix comes the resurgence of dogmatism, specifically religious dogmatism but there is a secular dogmatism as well that is on the rise.   In the last few years, people have been asking what role should government have in allowing people to pursue life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness?

Does government have a vested interest in the definition of marriage?  This long and honored institution certainly falls into the pursuit of happiness that our founding documents state is an unalienable right granted to us not by governments but by the spirit of life itself.  This question is being debated currently in the courts in California where Prop 8 is being contested as being unconstitutional in banning same sex marriage. If the answer is yes, does government have the right to limit its definition to a particular religion’s definition placing preference above other religions’ definition of marriage, such as Unitarian Universalist’s definition of marriage?  “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…”

I came across a response on Facebook to a stranger who took exception of a photograph of a father and son who had temporarily tattooed “No H8” on their faces.  The stranger wrote:  “How sad you have your child pose for something he has no idea what it stands for, this country is a disgrace if you think that same sex marriage is normal you need to seek the truth and the truth will set you free.”  The person in the spirit of independence answered with this response:

“First, as responsible parents, we have an obligation to guide our children down a moral path that we feel is best for them until they reach a level of maturity to choose such a path for themselves. For example, I would guess that you made your children attend church services before they truly understood what Christianity stood for, before they understood that there are hundreds of other religious beliefs to choose from or that there is a mountain of scientific evidence that stands in opposition to religious belief altogether.

“Further, wouldn’t you agree we can’t give our children complete free will to choose what they wish to do? My son doesn’t understand the importance of eating his vegetables, but I make him do it anyway.

“These arguments aside, however, the truth is that my son DOES understand what this picture stands for. Nearly all children from an incredibly early age understand the importance of fairness, that people should be treated equally. What’s unfortunate is that, for most, these intrinsic values are eventually torn away and replaced by religious indoctrination. [4]

To raise our children in the spirit of independence is to assist them in being able to live in a world of diversity. If each person has the right to have life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness, then it is vital that we teach our children tolerance and acceptance of differences.  It is important that they are equipped with being able to answer the question posed by our founding parents for their generation.

It is clear that our founders did not even consider the possibility of same sex marriage in the late 18th century. But they did consider the problems of one religion having authority over another.  Further they saw the problems of government enforcing a particular religious doctrine or creed onto a populous that is diverse in religious expression.  To do so increases the possibility of oppression and restricting the ability of people to choose their own path towards life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

The states are claiming state rights in the decision of same sex marriage but this argument did not hold when interracial marriage was debated in the late 1960’s.  At some point in the not so distant future, state rights in defining marriage according to one religious doctrine, regardless if it is the majority doctrine held by people, will not hold either.

Should we allow history and science to be taught that contradicts my religious faith or political beliefs?   Remember I mentioned this polar extreme between libertarianism and socialism that our country operates in politically and religiously.  So we have the Texas state school board insisting that certain scientific facts such as evolution or certain historical debates such as separation of church and state should not be taught.  Why?  Because these topics go against their religious beliefs.

Some fundamentalist Christian groups believe that the ideal government is best achieved when Jesus returns to set up his kingdom on earth.  Religious kingdoms are not democracies but rather theocracies, benevolent ones according to these beliefs but theocracies nonetheless.  The only examples we have of modern day theocracies are oppressive regimes so it is hard to imagine that one led by a fundamentalist Jesus would be any different.  These particular fundamentalist groups want to pave the way for the second coming of their king by creating laws and scenarios that reflect their beliefs.

There is nothing in our constitution that prohibits a state to mandate what is an acceptable educational curriculum. The federal government has stated that government shall make no laws regarding the establishment of a religion or the free exercise of that religion.   And therefore this question of what can or cannot be taught in our schools is left open to interpretation.  However, consider that there is no independence of thought when a particular religion can hold sway over what is taught in a state education system.

Should we allow undocumented immigrants who have children born here to become citizens?   There is proposed legislation in Arizona that would prohibit children born here to undocumented immigrants from becoming citizens.  The so called anchor babies’ legislation is an attempt to prevent their parents from finding a means towards naturalization and citizenship.  This proposal which is gaining momentum not only in Arizona but in Congress violates the 14th amendment of the constitution which states, “All persons born or naturalized in the United States, and subject to the jurisdiction thereof, are citizens of the United States and of the State wherein they reside. No State shall make or enforce any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States.”

Arizona is claiming that they have state rights to create laws to protect their citizens as defined in the Bill of Rights amendment 10.  State rights are an issue that was never fully answered by our founding forebears.  In fact they decidedly side stepped the question in creating the declaration of Independence and in creating the constitution.   The declaration of independence in the initial draft by Thomas Jefferson deplored the existence of slavery supported by King George III. Hypocritical perhaps since Jefferson himself had several slaves but the paragraph was removed in concession to state rights to govern as they saw fit.

State rights were used again in defining slaves owned as 3/5ths of a person in giving representation to congress.  The newly formed congress gave in to the states ability to govern as they deemed fit in order for the more populated white north to retain a majority in the federal government legislative branch.  The question of whether states had the right to oppress others when the newly formed federal government declared equality of all men was again not answered.

To define what state rights means in the bill of rights continued to be argued throughout the 1800’s.  And while some southern historians argue that the civil war was fought over state rights[5], this question was never settled.  The southern states exercised their opposition to ending slavery by seceding from the union, an ultimate test of state sovereignty but the question of state rights was not answered only the question of slavery.

The residual effects of slavery remain as a blood stain on this country 145 years after slavery ended.  Independence as declared in our country’s documents for our citizens of color still eludes them in many ways.  And the unanswered question of state rights is still part of the system that holds them down.

I do not know what the answer will be for our nation in the question of state rights to self-determine their fate.  But if we are to be true to words in our declaration of independence and our preamble to our constitution then the line must be drawn by the federal government in terms of what is permissible and what is not.  In regards to ensuring human rights, this seems to be primarily a function of the federal government when states do not abide to the spirit of our nations most sacred texts.

As Unitarian Universalists, we need to be ready to stand on the side of love in regard to these questions.  If we seek to answer these questions with what is the most loving, what is the most freedom affirming, what is the most liberating action that can be done, then we cannot veer too far off the path of what our founding parents meant when they wrote, “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all [people] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”  May we celebrate these values this Independence Day.  Blessed Be.


[1] As found at  http://www.earlyamerica.com/earlyamerica/freedom/doi/text.html

[2] As found at http://www.usconstitution.net/const.html#Preamble

[3] As found at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gettysburg_Address

[4] Used by permission of author As found at http://www.facebook.com/miguel.santana?v=wall&story_fbid=135201343170964#!/note.php?note_id=128947497141157&id=100000322926383

[5] I contend that the argument that the Civil War was fought over state rights is an attempt by those who wish to hide the shame of our racist past.  It seems nobler to say our ancestors fought the Civil War for the cause of state sovereignty than to admit our ancestors were racists and wanted to continue the heinous act of slavery.

Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David: A Look at Loyalty

A sermon delivered on 20 June 2010 © by Rev. Fred L Hammond to the Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Tuscaloosa

Reading: 1 Samuel 18: 1,3-4

Now when he had finished speaking to Saul, the soul of Jonathan was knit to the soul of David, and Jonathan loved him as his own soul. 3 Then Jonathan and David made a covenant, because he loved him as his own soul. 4 And Jonathan took off the robe that was on him and gave it to David, with his armor, even to his sword and his bow and his belt.


“Entreat me not to leave you,
Or to turn back from following after you;
For wherever you go, I will go;
And wherever you lodge, I will lodge;
Your people shall be my people,
And your God, my God.

Where you die, I will die,
And there will I be buried.
The LORD do so to me, and more also,
If anything but death parts you and me.” (Ruth 1: 16-17)

These beautiful words from the Book of Ruth have been read at hundreds of wedding services to assist in building the covenant between a man and a woman.  But these words are not about a covenant between a man and a woman but a covenant between a woman and a woman.

The book of Ruth in the Hebrew Scriptures is about loyalty and love.  Here is the story which makes these words so powerful.

Naomi and her husband Elimelech move to the country of Moab because there was a great famine in Judah.  Elimelech dies and their two sons, Mahlon and Chileon married Moabite women, Ruth and Orpah.  After about ten years these two sons also die, leaving no children.  Naomi, now alone decides to travel back to the home of her husband’s in Bethlehem in the country of Judah because she heard that the famine was over.   So Naomi and her daughters-in law begin the trek back to Judah.

In these days, women were considered property and if Naomi had additional sons they would have been expected to take Orpah and Ruth as their wives in the hopes of giving their brothers sons.  But this is not the case and Naomi is of the age when remarriage and child bearing is not an option for her to produce sons who then could grow up and marry her daughters in law.  And if such a thing were possible would it be fair to make them wait? So for them to return to Naomi’s husband’s family meant that they would be sold into slavery when her husband’s property is sold.  And Moabites while a peaceful people were considered deceivers that lured people away to false gods.  This was not a happy prospect.

Naomi beseeches her daughters-in-law to return to their own families so that they will not be sold into slavery, into a life of unknown poverty, into a life of further degradation.  They weep at this request. Orpah decides to take Naomi’s advice and return to her people.  It is from this culture that Ruth’s words are spoken.  It is from this realization of her future prospects that she declares these words to Naomi.  “Entreat me not to leave you, Or to turn back from following after you; For wherever you go, I will go.”

Now the story has a happy ending.  Naomi and Ruth return to Bethlehem.  Naomi despairs of her bitter fate but Ruth goes and gleans the fields that belong to a man named Boaz.  It was a practice of the Jews to leave one tenth of the harvest so that the poor may glean the fields in order to have food.  Ruth did so behind the reapers and gained favor of the land owner.  Boaz, was a relative of Naomi’s husband and considered a protector of the family.  He admires the devotion that Ruth shows his kin’s widow and decides to try to make things right for them. He purchases the land that belonged to Naomi’s husband and takes the hand of Ruth in marriage. Naomi’s future is secured and Ruth becomes the great grandmother of King David.

Now, the story of Jonathan and David does not have a happy ending but it is an important story.   Our reading this morning begins after David had slew Goliath, the Philistine.  King Saul wanted to know who this warrior was and had called him to his court.  King Saul is so impressed with this young man that he invites David to live with them. During this audience with King Saul, Jonathan and David meet for the first time.  It was as the romantics might say, love at first sight.

David proved to be a great warrior and the country begin to sing his praises which made King Saul envious of David.  So envious that Saul made plans to have David killed.  But Jonathan interceded on David’s behalf on several occasions telling his father that his hatred towards David was unfounded. Jonathan renews his covenant with David and has “David swear again by his love for him; for he loved him as he loved his own life.” (1 Sam 20:17)  But Saul’s hatred against David grows and at one point rebukes Jonathan for his love, saying “Do I not know that you have chosen the son of Jesse to your own shame, and to the shame of your mother’s nakedness?” (1 Sam 20: 30)  Jonathan sends David away in order to save David’s life. “David  …prostrated himself with his face to the ground.  He bowed three times, and they kissed each other; David wept the more.” (1 Sam 20:41)  Saul and Jonathan die in battle and David laments:  “I am distressed for you, my brother Jonathan; greatly beloved were you to me; your love to me was wonderful, passing the love of women.” (2 Sam 26)

What is important in both of these relationships is that they were mutual, each person choosing the other as equals.  Marriage as found in the Hebrew Scriptures is rarely on a mutual standing.  The marriage arrangements are coerced or arranged by a third party.  The woman is considered property of the man and therefore has no say in the relationship. If there is love it is generally love that is developed later or it is one sided.

The word love as it applies to Jonathan and David is discussed in the Mishnah, the first major written redaction of the oral traditions of the Jewish faith.  It is contrasted to the word love as it pertains to another story in David’s life, the rape of David’s daughter Tamar by her half brother Amnon.

In the story of Amnon and Tamar, it is written that Amnon loved Tamar and craftily found a way to have her come to his chambers.  He feigns illness and asks that she bake him some food. She does so and enters his chamber to feed him.  He requests that she lie with him. She resists and he rapes her.  Then what she declares an ever worse offense he rejects her, going against Jewish law that states a man who rapes a virgin must take her in marriage.  This leaves her desolate, no longer eligible for marriage.

The Mishnah states, “If love depends on some material cause and the cause goes away, the love goes away, too; but if it does not depend on a thing, it will never go away.  What love depended on something?  The love of Amnon and Tamar.  What love was not dependent on something? The love of David and Jonathan.”[1]

The Hebrew word for love in the text is Ahava.  Ahava is used some 250 times in the Hebrew Scriptures.  It is used to refer to the sexual as in the very poetic Song of Songs.  It is used to refer to the love of a husband for a wife.  It is used to refer to passion in illicit relationships.  It is used to refer to the love of Jonathan and David, and Ruth and Naomi, and it is used in the great commandment to love one’s neighbor as one self[2]. And while we translate ahava as love, it literally means “I will give.”

Rabbi Kelemen discusses love from an Orthodox Jewish perspective.  He states if you ask an Orthodox Jew if they are in love, “[they have] to stop and ask … a completely different set of questions. He has to ask himself — How much am I willing to let go of what I want for her sake? How much am I willing to sacrifice for the sake of my beloved? What am I willing to let go of for her? It’s all about “her”, “her”, “her[3]”. It’s all about the other. Ahava, I will give. If I want to know if I’m in love, if I’m in ahava from a Jewish perspective, the question is not how does he or she make me feel good or what he or she does for me but rather how much am I willing to let go for the sake of the other.

It is this kind of love that is evident in the relationships of Naomi and Ruth and Jonathan and David. Ahava. I will give.  “…wherever you go, I will go; and wherever you lodge, I will lodge; your people shall be my people, and your God, my God.”  Ruth was giving up her culture, her home, her opportunity for safety, her gods, everything for the sake of being with Naomi.

Jonathan gave up his birthright claim to the throne. He gave up his place in commanding the armies of the kingdom.   He gave up his father’s favor for his love for David.

In terms of gay and lesbian relationships today, it is this form of love that I witness in my friends.  What have they let go of in order to be with the one they love?  A lot.

In 30 states it is still legal to fire or refuse to hire someone solely on the basis of their sexual orientation; an additional eight states still allow discrimination based on gender identity or expression[4].  In 20 states hate crime legislation either does not exist or does not include sexual orientation and gender identity or expression.  In six states there are laws prohibiting the adoption or recognizing the adoption of children by same sex couples.  Three states restrict the placing of foster children in gay households, single or coupled.  By not having their marriage relationship recognized federally, the couple is restricted from 1,138 benefits including the marital communications privilege which is the right not to testify against ones spouse. They are denied survivor benefits and spousal benefits from social security.  They are denied medical decision-making power and hospital visitation rights.

This means that to have an Ahava, I will give, love relationship with a person of the same sex or gender, the person must be willing to give up the heterosexually acceptable act of holding hands in public because if they are seen by someone they know, their job might be in jeopardy. They must be willing to risk homophobic attacks; verbal, emotional, and physical because these are not considered to be hate crimes.  They must be willing to risk losing the child they raised together if their partner dies because they were not allowed to mutually adopt the child.  The couple must be willing to endure the heartbreak of not being able to be present when the other is dying in the hospital.  He or she, after the death of their spouse, must be willing to step aside when the family swoops in and claims possession of the house and their belongings they shared.

Now there are ways to minimize these risks but they are not guarantees against these risks.  In many states blood relations trump live in relations even if there is a will designating the partner as surviving heir to the estate.  Without the legal protection of marriage, a family can make and will win legal claim as next of kin.  There are couples across the country who thought they had cobbled together the legal protections available to them under the current laws  only to find out these laws are not strong enough or sufficient enough to protect them.

Such was the case of Tim Reardon and his partner Eric in Minnesota.  Tim and Eric had filed all the papers and paid all the legal fees only to find out that they had missed one, the right for Tim or Eric to have final say over the physical remains of their loved one.  Eric died of brain cancer and Tim was not allowed to claim the body. In Minnesota the state can seize the property, the house shared by both partners, if a partner dies and there is a lien on the property[5].  Legislation, entitled The Final Wishes Act, was passed in May of this year that would have repaired this inequity of privileges that are automatic for heterosexual couples but the governor of Minnesota[6] vetoed this legislation.

In California the battle over Proposition 8 continues.  The state of California voted to overturn a court’s ruling to allow same sex marriage.  18,000 same gendered marriages were performed before the ruling was overturned by the referendum of the state’s voters.  This has now been debated in the District court for the last six months.  The judge is expected to rule in a few weeks. There is much that a same sex couple will be losing should the judge rule in favor of the referendum.  The defendants want the 18,000 same sex marriages also annulled and made illegal.  There is much that love, ahava, is willing to give in order to be a same sex couple throughout the country today.

Not all same sex relationships are able to survive in a society where the pressure against them is strong.  Sometimes what one is willing or able to give is simply not enough to sustain the relationship.  In order for any relationship to survive, to thrive in the day to day difficulties, regardless of societal acceptance or not, there is another quality that is essential.  Both Ruth and Naomi and Jonathan and David had this quality between them.

There is another Hebrew word that has been translated as love but that is not an accurate translation.  The word is Chesed.  It has been translated as Love, as loving –kindness, as faithfulness, as loyalty, as mercy, as covenantal-love, as grace, as steadfast love.  Even these words combined do not seem to capture the full essence of the word Chesed.  The words as they are used in the story of Naomi and Ruth and in the story of Jonathan and David are in connection to a covenant that binds them to a higher purpose, to God, to their higher selves.

Rabbi Keleman states that “The … Orthodox Jews, … believe that the model of a perfect spouse is God. They have this wild belief that human beings were created in the image of God, and because they were created in the image of God they have God-like potential. And therefore, at least in terms of character, they could become like God. Now if you add to this that they believe that God is pure ahava, He is pure giving.[7]

The Covenant that God made with Abraham is one based in pure ahava, it is chesed, an undying, ever binding, unconditional,  merciful, steadfast, loyal, faithful love to Abraham and his descendants.  The marriage covenant also reflects this attitude of chesed.

Rabbi Keleman tells this story he heard about “Christopher Reeve, Superman, so he had this terrible accident and when he woke up from surgery they informed him that he was probably going to be a quadriplegic for the rest of his life. No movement from the neck down. And shortly thereafter he had a discussion with his wife. His wife visited him there in the ICU and he said to her — ‘Sweetie, you know, I understand. I don’t mind if you divorce me. It’s okay.’  She looked at him and she said — ‘What are you talking about? What do you mean if I want to divorce you? I’m not going to divorce you.’ He explained — ‘No, no. I’m a quadriplegic now, I can’t take care of myself, I can’t do anything for you. I understand if you divorce me.’ And she very beautifully responded — ‘Why would I consider divorcing you?’ Because the reason she married him was she just wanted to take care of and love him. Now he couldn’t do certain things for her, that was irrelevant. She wanted to take care of him.[8]”  This story reveals the quality of Chesed.  It is more than just what she will give, ahava, but also what she expresses loyalty to in the relationship.

It goes beyond love, beyond ahava, I will give.  It is bound in covenant even when tragedy strikes. It is bound in covenant that is renewed even as one fails to honor it.   It is bound in covenant even when employment is lost.  It is bound in covenant even when disappointments abound and dreams are lost.  It is bound in covenant even when health is failing.  It is bound in a covenanted relationship that calls for the highest purpose, the highest expression of our selves.  The Orthodox Jews might express it as reaching to become like God in character, pure in ahava.

Jonathan and David expressed this depth of love, chesed, in a covenant between each other.  The word covenant as used in the Hebrew text is the same word used to describe a marriage vow.  They remind each other of this covenant as they figure out how they were going to deal with the death threats against David made by Jonathan’s father.

Sometimes, the most loving thing to do is to let the other person leave.  Jonathan could have been selfish and insisted that David stay in the vain hope of turning Saul’s heart once again, but to do so would have meant certain death to David.   The notion of ahava, I will give, sometimes includes I will give up the relationship in order to fully love and respect your inherent worth and dignity.

With Naomi and Ruth, Boaz uses the word chesed in recognition of Ruth’s devotion to Naomi and her seeking to abide by Jewish customs.   This is a quality that is noticed and admired.  It is a profound quality that endears Ruth to Boaz to see her not as foreigner, or a servant, but as an equal in status, appropriate as a wife for him.

The Mishnah states, “If love depends on some material cause and the cause goes away, the love goes away, too; but if it does not depend on a thing, it will never go away.”  Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David had a love that was not dependent on some material cause, on some circumstance or event that held it in place, or on some societal more of what is acceptable or not acceptable.  Theirs was a love that was based on something elemental to the human condition that transcended material causes or circumstances.  May we all have the opportunity to experience this ahava, this chesed, this depth and breadth of love in the living of our days.    Blessed Be.


[1] Boswell, John;  Same-Sex Unions in Premodern Europe.  P 136.

[2] Ibid.

[3] http://www.warmwisdompress.com/dating/gtr/kelemen1.aspx

[4] http://www.thetaskforce.org/enda07/ENDAtoolkit_c4.pdf

[5] http://minnesotaindependent.com/24178/final-wishes-proposed-bill-aims-to-help-grieving-same-sex-couples

[6] http://www.truthwinsout.org/blog/2010/05/8847/

[7] http://www.warmwisdompress.com/dating/gtr/kelemen2.aspx as accessed on June 19 2010.

[8] http://www.warmwisdompress.com/dating/gtr/kelemen3.aspx

Published in: on June 20, 2010 at 2:43 pm  Comments Off on Naomi and Ruth, Jonathan and David: A Look at Loyalty  
Tags: , , , , , , , , ,

State Rights vs Civil Human Rights

Former Vice President Dick  Cheney stated, perhaps for the first time, his personal belief that people ought to form whatever unions they desire.  “Freedom means freedom for all” he said.   Then he couched the quest for equal marriage rights not as a human rights issue but as a State sovereignty issue.   

Do states have the right to define what constitutes civil human rights?  And is it just to then have some states deny what other states declare as fundamental? 

This is where this country has historically gotten itself into turmoil in the past.   Slavery was considered a State sovereignty issue and it led us to civil war.  And marriage has also traditionally been a State sovereignty issue and has also been settled on a federal level.  Not as violently as civil war but on a federal level nonetheless.

On June 12, 1967, Loving V. Virginia, the Supreme Court ruled that banning interracial marriages was unconstitutional.  Mr. Loving and his bride went to the District of Columbia to be married and returned to Virginia to live. At the time of the court’s decision there were 16 states that banned and punished interracial marriages within their state.  Virginia in  its case as to the consitutionality of their denying Mr. and Mrs. Loving their marriage “reasoned that marriage has traditionally been subject to state regulation without federal intervention, and, consequently, the regulation of marriage should be left to exclusive state control by the Tenth Amendment.” 

The U.S. Supreme Court in deciding Loving V Virginia did not deny the state’s right to regulate marriage.  It did however state the following: 

“The freedom to marry has long been recognized as one of the vital personal rights essential to the orderly pursuit of happiness by free men. Marriage is one of the “basic civil rights of man,” fundamental to our very existence and survival. To deny this fundamental freedom on so unsupportable a basis as the racial classifications embodied in these statutes, classifications so directly subversive of the principle of equality at the heart of the Fourteenth Amendment, is surely to deprive all the State’s citizens of liberty without due process of law. The Fourteenth Amendment requires that the freedom of choice to marry not be restricted by invidious racial discriminations. Under our Constitution, the freedom to marry, or not marry, a person of another race resides with the individual and cannot be infringed by the State.”

I would argue the same holds true for same gendered couples.  The freedom to marry, or not marry a person of the same gender resides with the individual.  There are no sound reasons beyond religious doctrines (which in a pluralistic society cannot be made into the rule of law over another who does not accept nor abide with those doctrines)  to deny marriage between same gendered individuals.

State rights of sovereignty do not in my opinion trump civil human rights.  It is instead the other way around.

are rights unalienable or democratically bestowed?

Prop 8 the constitutional ban of same gender marriage in California is being reviewed by California’s State Supreme Court.  The question that is being debated is who determines what is a right?  —The majority of the people or some other authority like inherent human rights.    The ban was voted in by 52% of the voting population making null and void 18,000 marriages that were committed when the Supreme Court ruled that the legislative ban against same gender marriage was unconstitutional. 

It’s an interesting question and one that could have dire consequences across the country.  Could there be a constitutional amendment in a state that wants to ban say immigrants from working and residing in their state? I am talking about immigrants that have visas.   There is such a groundswell of anti-immigrant fever in Mississippi and Alabama that such a change in the constitution could be voted in by a simple majority of the voting population.  It sounds preposterous.  But that is the argument being made in California, the majority decides what is a right. 

Bigotry should never be considered constitutional.  Nor should racism.  Yet that is the argument in California because 52% of the people voted with their bigotry.   They voted against the the religious rights of those faiths, including Unitarian Universalists,  who believe that all marriages are to be honored and blessed regardless of gender. 

A majority vote does not make it ethically right.  It just means that bigotry is alive and well.  If California’s State Supreme Court rules in favor of this constitutional ammendment then it will be the first time that equality rights were rescinded in America.   I know that there are states that have passed constitutional ammendments against same gender marriage but those states never recognized the human right to love whomever in the first place.  So, the states weren’t rescinding they were simply adding more barriers to codify their bigotry.   What other rights will be rescinded by majority vote?

When Mississippi– Equal Marriage Rights?

Today, the California Supreme Court ruled in a decision 4 to 3 that California’s same sex marriage ban is unconstitutional.  They wrote: “As past cases establish, the substantive right of two adults who share a loving relationship to join together to establish an officially recognized family of their own – and, if the couple chooses, to raise children within that family – constitutes a vitally important attribute of the fundamental interest in liberty and personal autonomy that the California Constitution secures to all persons for the benefit of both the individual and society.”   (The full summary of the ruling can be found here. All quotes in this blog are from this summary. The complete Supreme Court Opinion is found here.)

A rose by any other name–NOT:  Domestic partnership is not the same as marriage. 

“One of the core elements of the right to establish an officially recognized family that is embodied in the California constitutional right to marry is a couple’s right to have their family relationship accorded dignity and respect equal to that accorded other officially recognized families, and assigning a different designation for the family relationship of same-sex couples while reserving the historic designation of “marriage” exclusively for opposite-sex couples poses at least a serious risk of denying the family relationship of same-sex couples such equal dignity and respect. We therefore conclude that although the provisions of the current domestic partnership legislation afford same-sex couples most of the substantive elements embodied in the constitutional right to marry, the current California statutes nonetheless must be viewed as potentially impinging upon a same-sex couple’s constitutional right to marry under the California Constitution.”

The institution of marriage is not undermined by same sex marriage.

“A number of factors lead us to this conclusion. First, [bold italics mine]  the exclusion of same-sex couples from the designation of marriage clearly is not necessary in order to afford full protection to all of the rights and benefits that currently are enjoyed by married opposite-sex couples; permitting same-sex couples access to the designation of marriage will not deprive opposite-sex couples of any rights and will not alter the legal framework of the institution of marriage, because same-sex couples who choose to marry will be subject to the same obligations and duties that currently are imposed on married opposite-sex couples. Second, retaining the traditional definition of marriage and affording same-sex couples only a separate and differently named family relationship will, as a realistic matter, impose appreciable harm on same-sex couples and their children, because denying such couples access to the familiar and highly favored designation of marriage is likely to cast doubt on whether the official family relationship of same-sex couples enjoys dignity equal to that of opposite-sex couples. Third, because of the widespread disparagement that gay individuals historically have faced, it is all the more probable that excluding same-sex couples from the legal institution of marriage is likely to be viewed as reflecting an official view that their committed relationships are of lesser stature than the comparable relationships of opposite-sex couples. Finally, retaining the designation of marriage exclusively for opposite-sex couples and providing only a separate and distinct designation for same-sex couples may well have the effect of perpetuating a more general premise – now emphatically rejected by this state – that gay individuals and same-sex couples are in some respects “second-class citizens” who may, under the law, be treated differently from, and less favorably than, heterosexual individuals or opposite-sex couples. Under these circumstances, we cannot find that retention of the traditional definition of marriage constitutes a compelling state interest. Accordingly, we conclude that to the extent the current California statutory provisions limit marriage to opposite-sex couples, these statutes are unconstitutional.”

Unitarian Universalists across this country will perform religious ceremonies celebrating the marriage of same sex couples even though the state will not recognize its civil legality.  Yet, heterosexual religious marriages, even those performed by Unitarian Universalists, are recognized for its civil legality.  I believe to not have these religious ceremonies recognized by the civil government is a violation of our religious freedoms. To deny recognition is a restriction and impingement of our religious principles that seeks compassion, justice, and equity in all human relations.  It amounts to an unequal religious authority to the majority in a country that claims separation of church and state. 

Mississippi equal marriage rights are coming to this state just as inter-racial marriage rights came to this state.  It is no nolonger a matter of if, it is only a matter of when.  May justice and equality be truly for all in this land.  Blessings, Rev. Fred L Hammond