Thursday, June 05, 2014

A reflection upon the occasion of celebrating Marriage Equality

This coming Sunday, June 8 (my birthday, actually, and what a gift!), I will be celebrating the roots and blossoming of the Marriage Equality movement in Washington State with the lovely folks at Edmonds Unitarian Universalist Church.  My former parishioner and friend Craig Cyr and my colleague Eric Kaminetzky have invited me to take part in this commemorative service.

I'll be offering a reflection on my efforts and the efforts of the Whidbey Island contingent to bring this momentous legislation to fruition.  If you're in the neighborhood on Sunday morning at 10, at EUUC, please stop by.  If you're not, here's my contribution to the big day:

Rev. Kit Ketcham, June 8, 2014, Edmonds UUC

         My personal involvement with the issue of equal civil rights for all persons, including marriage equality, goes back a long ways, since my days as a junior high school counselor in Colorado, long before I was a minister. 

         When I moved to Seattle to serve the UU congregations on Vashon and Whidbey Islands in 2003, I quickly joined the board of the interfaith clergy organization Religious Coalition for Equality, which was part of the crowd accompanying the plaintiffs who first attempted to register for marriage licenses at the King County Clerk’s office and were denied.

         Our intent for the Coalition was to change the common perception that churches, synagogues, and mosques were all enemies of the gay, lesbian, bisexual, and trangender community.  We were acting in direct opposition to those religious bodies whose doctrines did oppose equality for sexual minorities. 

         We held worship services, marched at PRIDE, supported legislators as they began the process of making Marriage Equality a reality, starting with anti-discrimination laws and moving to domestic partnerships with the same rights as married couples, with the goal of attaining Marriage Equality for all committed couples.

         When I moved to Whidbey Island in 2006, I continued my activities with the Religious Coalition for Equality but once the coalition united with Equal Rights Washington, I began to concentrate my efforts on Whidbey.

         The UU Congregation of Whidbey Island had already become a Welcoming Congregation and we made this a public part of our presence in the community. 
         In 2008, when California’s Prop 8 passed so disappointingly, my congregation and I invited gay couples to hold their own wedding and holy union ceremonies in our sanctuary, free of charge, using my services as officiant, with the promise of signing marriage certificates when Marriage Equality became a reality in Washington, because we believed it would happen.

         A few years later, while the exciting marriage equality legislation was before the WA state Senate, just barely short of the requisite 25 yea votes needed to pass it into law, our Island County Senator, the renowned Mary Margaret Haugen scheduled a Town Hall meeting on the island, at the Bayview Senior Center.

            The hall was packed for the 2 p.m. Saturday meeting, and early topics included education, ferry policies, and budgetary issues.  But the hall's occupants were largely gay and lesbian citizens who had come to ask her to be the 25th "yes" vote on legislation before the Senate which would give all loving couples the right to marry, regardless of gender.
         I had scribbled a few notes because it felt important, as the UU minister in town, to make a religious statement about the issue.  I didn't know if there would be detractors or other ministers opposing marriage equality, but I wanted to support my friends in the gay/lesbian community.  So when the topic arose, I asked to be recognized and stood to speak.  The response from the gathered body was unexpected and gratifying.  (See the video if you’re interested, which may be posted somewhere on a screen here in the church.)

          I don’t remember everything I said that afternoon, but the term “moral courage” popped into my mind because Senator Haugen had shown moral courage many times in her deliberations as a Senator and I hoped she would find the personal and professional strength to take this step, for it would be controversial and challenging for her.
         To our great delight and admiration, Senator Haugen, later in the legislative session, did become the 25th senator to sign onto the legislation, which became law, was challenged, survived a referendum vote in November 2012, and became Washington State Law.

         And since that time, I have had the wonderful opportunity to say, at the end of a marriage ceremony, “and now, by the authority invested in me by the State of Washington, I pronounce you husband and husband, partners for life”.

         Senator Haugen, I thank you for your moral courage and for the discernment process you entered in order to make the right decision about your vote.  I know that you thought long and hard about it; I know that you talked with family and friends; I appreciated your careful listening that day at the Bayview Senior Center and your respectful approach to the concerns being voiced.

         Thank you, thank you, thank you.  We are all grateful.


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