- by Rev. Sanford "Sandy" Brown -
Seattle was one huge wedding party last weekend. Thanks to official certification of last month's victorious Referendum 74 -- which grants marriage rights regardless of sexual orientation -- hundreds of gay and lesbian couples went to their local county courthouses to get their marriage licenses last week. Then, due to Washington's mandatory three-day waiting period, Sunday marked the first official day of marriage nuptials for gay and lesbian couples.
And the downtown of our city was an extravaganza of same-sex weddings.
Mayor McGinn opened City Hall to any couple who wanted to be married by a judge -- 142 couples took him up on the offer and exchanged their vows that day. After their vows they paraded one at a time down the grand staircase to Fourth Avenue as crowds cheered them on, threw rice and sang love songs. The Symphony Hall down the street was host to a single, grand, combined wedding reception for couples who'd just been married. Lesbian couples who'd been partners for over 30 years stood in line to say their official vows. Gay couples shared their promises and joyfully kissed in the grand lobby of City Hall. Judge Mary Yu (that's her real name) officiated at the first ceremony and dozens of ceremonies afterward. Churches got into it, too. Seattle First Baptist hosted 25 couples who were married simultaneously inside the stained glass majesty of the old, brick, Gothic structure.
A few blocks away, after worship services, our United Methodist sanctuary was empty and sadly silent. No celebrations. No vows. No lovers making their vows before God.
Why no United Methodist festivities on this historic day for Seattle's gay couples? Simple. Paragraph 2702.1.b of the Book of Discipline forbids us as from sharing in the love. The yoke of an increasingly outdated and draconian church law forces us into silence as the celebrations take place outside our doors. The rule is placed in the Discipline's "chargeable offenses" category, meaning that a UM clergyperson who officiates at a same-sex wedding is comparable to one who engages in sexual misconduct, crime, child abuse, racial discrimination or harassment. In other words, a county judge can legally conduct a same sex marriage in my state, but a UM pastor is somehow not supposed to.
Now, I don't mean to say there aren't United Methodist churches who are hosting gay weddings, or that there aren't UMC pastors who are doing same-sex nuptials. No, many of us are quietly breaking the rules. Many of our UM churches have, in civil-disobedience style, adopted policies that allow same sex weddings in the buildings. We know we're breaking the rules and we don't proudly flaunt it. So the big and public celebrations are at the Lutheran church. Or the Episcopal. Or the UCC. Or the American Baptist. Same sex couples who are in love and want to dedicate their lives to each other need to know that United Methodists have closed doors, closed minds, closed hearts.
While the festivities were happening in Seattle, conservative commentator George Will was on the Sunday talk shows. His opinion on marriage equality?
“Quite literally, the opposition to gay marriage is dying. It's old people.”
At the same time a nationwide poll showed a plurality of Americans support marriage equality. This year marriage equality was not even discussed in the presidential election. The tide has turned on this once-controversial topic, and our denomination looks increasingly backwards in its approach.
The country is discovering that civil rights shouldn't be controversial. I'm so sad to think of United Methodists who are gay and lesbian, who are in love and who want to share their vows before their church families in their church home, only to discover our horse and buggy rules don't cut it in a plug-in hybrid world.
Our congregation chooses to be faithfully disobedient to the Book of Discipline and instead to follow the Gospel of Love by ignoring Paragraph 2702.1.b. I'm meeting with a gay couple this very evening to plan their ceremony. But I'm still sad that the denomination I love hasn't figured out the truth of Martin Luther King, Jr.'s words. The moral arc of the universe is long, indeed, but it bends toward justice.
. . .
Rev. Dr. Sanford “Sandy” Brown is pastor of the First United Methodist Church of Seattle. Prior to his 2008 appointment to this historic congregation, Rev. Brown's ministry included leadership of United Methodist churches in the Pacific Northwest Annual Conference and service as executive director of two local mission agencies, including the Church Council of Greater Seattle. He has served as an elected public school board member, led a high profile battle to overturn an illegal mayoral election, and helped found the Committee to End Homelessness in King County where he directed its advocacy efforts from 2006-2008. Rev. Brown graduated from the University of Washington in 1978 (B.A. History), and earned a master’s degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1982 and a Doctor of Ministry from Princeton Theological Seminary in 1997. In 2005 he received the Distinguished Alumnus Award from Garrett-Evangelical. He is married to Dr. Gail Van Norman, a clinical medical ethicist and professor of anesthesiology and has two grown sons. In his spare time he enjoys long-distance walking and advising prospective pilgrims on the Camino de Santiago de Compostela.