My first post was about the supposed association between the struggle for civil unions and the struggle for civil rights. Yesterday I went on about marriage and how churches and church people are naturally concerned about it, particularly when we come close to the edge where law and spirituality meet. This last post is a short reflection on why I think civil unions will be good for the people of our state.
I think that any move toward a more just society is a good move. My hope and expectation is that civil unions will not be a step in the “wrong direction” or that marriage, as its been practiced and understood, will be damaged, but that the unions will be another chance for rights, protections, and benefits to be extended to citizens. Here are some practical and not-so-practical implications that our state’s legislation leads me to consider and suggest:
- I’m trying to appreciate the complexity of civil unions. The groundswell of antagonism and debate leading to the passage of this Act in Illinois was full and wide. I think it was because the unions didn’t and don’t fit in a box. They’re not just for gay couples. I read reports of straight couples who didn’t want to marry standing in lines to get unions. I heard a talk radio show where one person asked if it would legally be possible for a married person to have a civil union with another person precisely because it wasn’t marriage. My head spun, and I think all these types of conversations keep me interested in politics, in how legislators negotiate the dips and cracks of our state’s laws. And reading laws can be boring. Complexity keeps it engaging, don’t you think?
- If you haven’t already, get your paperwork done. If you don’t have a living will or an irrevocable trust, you need one; you might need both. You need to get your papers in order so that people who care for you aren’t left with all the responsibility of caring for you when things like illness and death come. I know that a part of the expressed desire of folks who weren’t covered by Illinois law (and still aren’t by the federal government) was being able to leave property and things to particular people at death. Well, whether you’re getting a union, a marriage license, or neither, consider what will happen with you and your things when you can’t dictate or choose. You will get sick. Probably sooner than you think. Who will make medical decisions on your behalf? Who will administrate the affairs and messes and untied strings you leave at your big departure?
- Consider your own proximity to all those ‘isms. I grew up with a memory in my bones. It’s a memory from some slave plantation that one of my relatives–of course I don’t know which relative so don’t ask–labored at. This relative loved a woman, married her, and was forced to leave when he was sold. His family, his heart, was torn asunder because he couldn’t stay with his own choices. I stand closely to that history, that shared history with African Americans, even though I’m decades from it. And that history comes up for me when I think about the rights and protections of other marginal people. It checks me in my gut when I hear words that sound like or hint at racism or bigotry or sexism or ageism. I’m close to racism, to being mistreated by it and to being poisoned by it, because of my history. And my history includes a long wall of theological nuances about sexuality in general and homosexuality in particular. What about you? Do you flinch and shudder with anger or bitterness when you hear about gay folks being given rights that were denied them because of their homosexuality? Could it be because you’re afraid and fearful of homosexuality or because you hold judgments of gay people?
- Live justly and walk humbly. Can this law help Illiniosians practice justice? I think it can. I had no difficulty at all looking at the people celebrating the passage of this law, though I was in my office preparing for a monthly prayer meeting when folks were at the municipal building or out in the park. That’s because I saw in their faces the brows and noses of people I know, family members and friends. When you know people who are affected by discrimination of whatever sort; when you recognize a person who is impacted by your hermeneutic, your way of understanding Scripture; when you talk to people and love people who can’t visit a hospital room, it humbles you. It should. This morning I officiated Christina and Joe’s wedding. They had two passages read, one from the love chapter in Corinthians, another from Psalm 15. I’ll end with the psalm because it fits for the day.
Who may worship in your sanctuary, Lord? Who may enter your presence on your holy hill? Those who lead blameless lives and do what is right, speaking the truth from sincere hearts. Those who refuse to slander others or harm their neighbors or speak evil of their friends. Those who despise persistent sinners, and honor the faithful followers of the Lord and keep their promises even when it hurts. Those who do not charge interest on the money they lend, and who refuse to accept bribes to testify against the innocent. Such people will stand firm forever (Psalm 15, NLT).
Any thoughts on these three posts?