This post is coutesy of Rev. Dr. Angela Yarber who is Pastor for Preaching and Worship at Wake Forest Baptist Church at Wake Forest University. She has a PhD in Art and Religion from the Graduate Theological Union at UC Berkeley and is author of Embodying the Feminine in the Dances of the World’s Religions, along with numerous articles about the intersections of religion, the arts, sexuality, and gender. She has been a clergy woman, professional dancer and artist since 1999. For more on her research, ministry, and arts, see www.angelayarber.com
You have already heard about what exactly Amendment One could do in North Carolina, so I’m not going to spend my time rehashing these possibilities. Instead, I want to share why I’m voting “no” on Amendment One based my religious tradition.
Noting that I am pastor of a Baptist church may, indeed, raise an eyebrow when you consider that I—along with the folks at WFBC—are against Amendment One. As you drive through Winston-Salem and the surrounding areas, there is no doubt that you will pass an array of signs in front of churches encouraging voters to “protect marriage” by voting for the Amendment. It is true that many of said churches are Baptist. Because of Baptist polity that emphasizes local church autonomy and liberty of conscience, each individual congregation and each individual member within that congregation can determine what to believe and where to stand on theological and political issues. This is why you have Baptist churches as far right as Fred Phelp’s Westboro Baptist Church and as far left as ones like WFBC; there is no denominational hierarchy or Book of Order that dictates what we believe or where we stand. Nonetheless, there are countless Baptist churches—and an array of other congregations from a variety of traditions—who are adamantly against Amendment One. So, I’d like to share with you a few of the reasons why I plan to vote “no.”
I’m voting “no” because I am a scholar who listens to history. I know that it wasn’t until 1869 that the words homo and heterosexual were even used in public discourse, let alone in relation to scripture and religion. As someone who lives the supposed “homosexual lifestyle” on a daily basis—with my incredibly threatening regimen of waking up, exercising, going to work as a pastor, returning home to eat a vegetarian dinner with my partner, watching Glee, and going to sleep only to repeat this threat to traditional family values the next morning—I believe that the time is past for the LGBT community to continue tolerating being treated like second class citizens. Gays and lesbians in North Carolina are already denied the over 1,000 rights and privileges granted to married couples; this amendment is not going to change that. We’ll still be denied those 1,000+ rights. What the amendment will do is kick us while we’re down. When the LGBT community is not afforded those marriage rights given to every other citizen, or protected from being fired on the basis of their orientation, or denied the right to file for joint adoption, this Amendment proposes that the state go ahead and trample on our heads anyway. And the prophet Amos had something to say to those well-to-do who trample on the heads of those who are mourning: “Woe to you!”
We have heard about what could happen to the rights of so many North Carolinians—both gay and straight—if this Amendment passes. If it does not pass, will anyone’s rights be diminished? Will anyone’s relationship, marriage, or family be scrutinized, put under fire, or questioned? No. In these ways, the conversation is quite simple. If Amendment One passes, thousands of people could be hurt and have their rights taken away. If Amendment One does not pass, nothing will change.
More importantly I’m voting “no” on Amendment One because I am a pastor. I’m voting “no” for my congregants, Judy and Teena, who have been a committed couple for 24 years and because Teena works for a public agency, her loving partner’s health care could be taken away if this amendment passes. I’m voting “no” because 12 year-old Justin gets punched in the face on the school bus while kids tell him to “burn hell f****** faggot.” We’ve witnessed the rash of teen LGBT suicides because kids are made to feel like they are not equal to everyone else in school. Passing this amendment will only make kids like Justin continue to feel like they do not belong and that they are not welcomed or loved inNorth Carolina.
I’m voting “no” because Fred’s partner of 35 years died and his homophobic family swept in and took their shared home away from Fred. When Fred spent his hard-earned money taking his now-deceased partner’s family to court simply so that he could remain in their shared home, the judge looked him in his grief-stricken eyes and said, “Boy, I reckon you’ve lived there long enough. Get your stuff out by the end of the day.” Because Fred and his partner were legal strangers in the eyes ofNorth Carolina, there was nothing he could do.
I’m voting “no” because, like Judy and Teena, Tim also works for a public agency, providing healthcare for his partner and their foster son, Derrick. Derrick needs braces and the family has already determined that Derrick will only get the braces he needs if the Amendment does not pass because they could not afford it otherwise. Because of the many ways this Amendment could adversely impact people in my congregation, we do have a number of families who are seriously considering relocating to another state.
I share these stories with you because I think that my congregation is a microcosm, a small sampling of the state. If this many people in my own congregation could be impacted in such drastic and life-changing ways, imagine the stories of other people, families, children who will also be impacted. Imagine what it would feel like to have your ability to visit your dying spouse in the hospital questioned. Imagine what it would feel like to take a second job simply so you can pay for your health care that was taken away. Imagine being bullyed on a daily basis because you are perceived to be gay simply because your bully goes to a church that demonizes the LGBT community and you live in state that refuses to protect you.
Tomorrow I will officiate a wedding of a fabulous lesbian couple. In two weeks I’ll do the same for another couple. When these couples bind their hearts and lives together in a committed and covenantal relationship, they receive no benefits or recognition from the government. They are simply participating in a sacred act within the confines of their faith community. Amendment One will do nothing to change this. Many who support this Amendment say that passing it will prevent the threat to marriage. But I would surmise that Amendment One actually has very little to do with marriage. This Amendment will actually have no impact on married couples, whether it passes or not. But since so many are worried that their marriages are being threatened I feel the need to offer a brief response.
First and foremost, to those worried about a threat to their marriage, I would remind them that this Amendment will do nothing of the sort. What is a threat to marriage is infidelity and divorce. And while we’re at it, as a scholar of religion and pastor, I would add that there are, indeed, some elements of marriage that need to be threatened. The fact that the average American wedding costs $20,000, for example, is quite an ethical travesty when so many people are jobless and hungry; if we can threaten this consumer excess and material waste, let’s threaten it. The countless women who are made subservient to their male husbands—that’s an element of marriage that’s worthy of threat. The fact that our country elevates the status of couples, while diminishing the value of being single—that should be threatened.
Additionally, based on religious tradition and history, marriage is a sacrament or ordinance, something that is done within the confines of the holy rituals of faith communities; in these ways, marriage is an act of worship. The last time I checked, the state doesn’t tell me how to plan worship at my church. The government doesn’t dictate who I baptize or who can receive communion. Why on earth should the state dictate who clergy choose to marry? Perhaps the sanctity of marriage could be restored if we left marriage up to local churches and legal contracts up to the government rather than conflating the two. If a particular church has theological problems with marrying same-sex couples, they don’t need to let them marry in the same way that they are not obliged to let them receive communion or get baptized. If same-sex couples desire to marry, you can send them in the direction of WFBC. Clearly, marriage is not a system without flaws. But, like I said, this Amendment isn’t really about marriage. Rather this Amendment is about taking away the rights of people and communities already oppressed and marginalized. I’m no legal scholar, but I do know that the function of the constitution is to protect people and amendments are proposed to help ensure the rights of all human beings, not take them away.
I’m voting “no” on Amendment One because I believe the admonition from the Gospels to love my neighbor. When I look around the state I can’t help but notice that my neighbors are gay and straight, married and unmarried, seniors and young adults. Call me crazy, but I think that all my neighbors deserve legal protection. Finally, I’m voting “no” because, as an ordained Baptist minister whose Catholic partner is a professor of Christian and Family Ethics, I think we are a couple who knows a little something about the sanctity of marriage, about the rights of families and citizens, and about the life-changing, never-ending, always accepting-love of Jesus Christ. I’m voting no on Amendment One and I implore you to do the same.