By The REV. JAN CARLSSON-BULL
Editor's Note: This column was written by the Rev. Dr. Jan Carlsson-Bull, minister, First Parish Unitarian Universalist, Cohasset, Mass. The former Jan White graduated from Carroll High School in 1960.
I am so proud of my home state. Just moments ago I read online of the decision of Iowa's Supreme Court that the Iowa "Defense of Marriage Act" violates Iowa's Constitution. Welcome to the growing number of states that celebrate inclusive marriage.
Growing up in the heartland community of Carroll, amid the "amber waves of grain," I was clueless about straight, gay, lesbian, and all the other adjectives we visit upon ourselves to describe our sexual affinities. It took a long time for me to understand and appreciate that there are many ways of loving. My toughest lesson was a 10-year ordeal as the wife of a man who was gay.
He simply couldn't come to terms with it. His vacillation morphed into an anger that turned against me. With my then two young children, I fled. That was just over 30 years ago.
I have since remarried, am now the mother of three adult daughters, and the grandmother of a completely adorable 1-year-old little boy. I'm also a Unitarian Universalist minister in the coastal town of Cohasset, Mass. It's a profession I love and a faith I hold dear. I preside at weddings of bride and groom, groom and groom, bride and bride.
For any of you who are not cheering this recent court ruling, I ask you: If a straight woman is married to a gay man and they produce two beautiful children, but the frustration in that man who is fighting his identity escalates into lashing out at his spouse, is this a marriage that nonetheless conforms to the legal norms of 47 of our states? If inclusive marriage had been on the books of New York, where we then resided, if our society had affirmed the wondrous variation of sexual affinity, might there not have been an early and congenial parting of the ways with the knowledge that he had his options and I had mine? I'm ever grateful for the reality that brought two little girls into the world, but not for the societal and legal context that contributed mightily to the toxicity of this quite legal marriage.
When I bless a marriage between a man and a woman, a man and a man, or a woman and a woman, I bless a relationship defined above all by mutual love and respect - whoever, however. The lifestyle of many of our happily married (and sometimes unhappily married) gay and lesbian and bisexual and transgender sisters and brothers is so much like that of our straight sisters and brothers that we could trade one for the other and not know the difference.
As a straight woman now married to a straight man, I think to myself, this isn't always easy. I love him, but if men are from Mars and women are from Venus, we don't even start out on the same planet. There's an argument to be made for options.
When I preside at weddings, I commonly say a prayer I wrote several years ago. It applies equally to bride and bride, groom and groom, or bride and groom:
As this is their day of love, so may it be their life of love. As this is their day of promises, so may it be their life of promises fulfilled.
As this is their day of hope, so may it be their life of hope realized.
We stand on the threshold of shared lives,knowing that not every day will feel like a wedding day.
We gather as family and friends, knowing that not every day will be a celebration of family or friends.
We affirm this day of love and promises and hope, trusting that the resilience granted by mutual affection and respect will be theirs, so that the lives they share and the family they form, will unfold and endure with grace and graciousness.
lt is this that we celebrate, this love that is deep and layered and true. lt is this love that will endure.
Loving our neighbor as ourselves is that haunting commandment that calls us to love beyond category. I don't believe there were any "yeah, buts .." in that invitation. I don't believe it applies to all relationships except marriage. One of my most euphoric moments was joining a few years ago with 100 or so other clergy from across faiths in a procession across the Boston Common. In our clerical robes, we made our way across the Common to the Massachusetts Statehouse to advocate for civil marriage as a civil right.
I and so many of my clergy colleagues celebrated when that right was won; just as my now 100-year-old mother celebrated when, as a young girl growing up on an Iowa farm, she discovered that, as a young woman, she would go to the polls along with men to cast her vote; just as so many of us in this nation celebrated when the hard fight to attain voting rights across color lines was affirmed with the passage of the National Voting Rights Act of 1965.
Civil marriage is a civil right. Inclusive marriage is simply right.
I am so proud of Massachusetts and Connecticut and what will hopefully soon come to pass in Vermont. But today, I am prouder than proud of my home state, Iowa.