Letter to Kim Davis, Rowan County, Kentucky, Clerk

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Dear Ms. Davis,

I’m writing to you because, when I listened to this past Sunday’s Gospel reading, I couldn’t help but think of you. And, not for the reasons that you might think. I hope that you will hear me out.

Sunday’s Gospel reading was from Mark:

Some Pharisees came, and to test Jesus they asked, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” He answered them, “What did Moses command you?” They said, “Moses allowed a man to write a certificate of dismissal and to divorce her.” But Jesus said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart he wrote this commandment for you. But from the beginning of creation, ‘God made them male and female.’ ‘For this reason a man shall leave his father and mother and be joined to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh.’ So they are no longer two, but one flesh. Therefore what God has joined together, let no one separate.”

Then in the house the disciples asked him again about this matter. He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery against her; and if she divorces her husband and marries another, she commits adultery.” (Mark 10:2-12)

Now, I know where you must think I’m going to go with this, but you would be wrong. As I thought about this passage, I began to realize how alike you and I and our spiritual journeys must be. This may come as a surprise to you when you learn that I am a gay man—a gay man and a Christian.

As a gay man, I have had to come to terms with certain passages in the Bible that seem to be pointing their fingers directly at me, just as you, as a divorced woman, have had to come to terms with what Jesus says regarding divorce in that passage. At first, I took those passages pointing directly at me as meaning that I was not welcomed in Jesus’ church, and I left the church for some time. Luckily, I have had many people who have shown me, in their words and actions, what it truly means to be a Christian, starting with my mother and her pastor.

When I came out to my mother, she struggled, as any good Christian would—as I did, too, when I realized that I am gay. Her struggle led her to talk with her pastor at the time, back in 1984. Like your church, her church—the church I grew up in—teaches that homosexuality is sinful. Nonetheless, my mother’s pastor understood Jesus’ message clearly:

“’Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” (Matthew 22:37-40)

He saw me as a child of God and as his neighbor, and he loved me and told my mother that God loves me, too.

I have been fortunate to have had other such loving—Christian—responses, which led me to wonder, “How can I reconcile what I know to be my created truth with what the Bible seems to teach?” As I studied, I found that Christians throughout the centuries have struggled with this question on a variety of issues—the Bible and slavery; the Bible and divorce; the Bible and women’s authority over men. How do we reconcile those teachings with life as we know and live it today?

In the end, I go back to those two commandments—“Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbor as yourself.” I believe that the second one, about loving your neighbor as yourself, is the path we must follow to love God. It’s all about love. “In my Father’s house are many mansions.” (John 14:2) Even a mansion for me. And for you. It would be a step toward ushering in God’s kingdom “on earth as it is in heaven” if we were to live as neighbors here and now and love one another as Christ loved us—unconditionally.

Your neighbor,

Alan Yount

Equal Dignity in the Eyes of the Law

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What a momentous day for “equal justice under law”! Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Constitution guarantees a right to same-sex marriage. As Justice Kennedy writes in his majority opinion:

[The couples’ challenging state bans on same-sex marriage] hope is not to be condemned to live in loneliness, excluded from one of civilization’s oldest institutions. They ask for equal dignity in the eyes of the law. The Constitution grants them that right.

I can only imagine the mixed emotions of the lead plaintiff, Jim Obergefell, at hearing those words affirming his marriage to his partner of 21 years, John Arthur.

Jim and John married soon after the Supreme Court’s previous gay marriage decision striking down the federal Defense of Marriage Act in 2013, United States v. Windsor. Although they lived in Ohio, they had to fly to Maryland to be married as Ohio would not recognize their marriage. Three months and 11 days later, John died. Jim was listed on John’s Ohio death certificate as John’s spouse only because Jim had sued the state and won. Ohio appealed that ruling, leading to today’s Supreme Court case being named Obergefell v. Hodges. Richard Hodges is the Ohio official who handles death certificates. So, despite today’s victory, I imagine that Jim is feeling sad and, yes, lonely, his personal victory being allowed to be listed as John’s spouse on John’s death certificate.

I am reminded of my own feelings on June 25, 2011; the day after my current home state of New York passed its Marriage Equality Act. My partner’s mother died that evening, and I had the honor of being with Scott, his father, and his mother at her bedside for the 24 hours before she died. The next day, a friend of mine, the New York Times columnist Frank Bruni, wrote a column for the Times’s Sunday Review, To Know Us Is to Let Us Love, talking about marriage equality in a very personal way. I was moved by Frank’s column and wrote him the following e-mail:

I read your column this morning with obvious interest. Unfortunately, I was not in New York this weekend to celebrate this hugely important occasion for us, and I wanted to share with you why. I was in DC with Scott, doing what families, couples—spouses—do. I was sitting at Scott’s mother’s hospital bedside with Scott and his father as she died after a year-long battle with cancer.  I have never felt so privileged and so married in my life.  And, it means so much to me that now that relationship can be honored and respected as equal to my brothers’ marriages.  As I read your column, I realized that I don’t need marriage equality to make it real, but I—and all other gay couples like us—deserve it.

With today’s ruling, I reiterate that I do not need marriage equality to make my relationship real, I deserve it, and I thank Justice Kennedy for recognizing that the Constitution of the United States—my constitution—grants me the right to equal dignity in the eyes of the law.