I've waited to post on this one for awhile. I think that's partly because it was such a contentious political topic while it was happening, and partly because the topic is so complex and the pressure so intense to take a position on the issue that I just haven't had the strength or interest or conviction to do so. My goal isn't to create controversy or stir up debate. My honest intention is to foster conversation because I see so little of that happening.
I was in Washington, D.C. at a conference last March 27, the day the Supreme Court heard arguments in United States vs. Windsor. This is the case that challenged the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, otherwise known as DOMA. Windsor was fighting for equal rights for homosexual couples, demanding that she should have the same benefits related to her partner's death and subsequent inheritance as married couples.
As I watched the drama on my hotel TV, I realized that the action was just a couple of miles from my hotel. I'd been to the Supreme Court before, but I'd never had a chance to witness thousands of people engaged in activism. So, I put on my walking shoes and headed over to the steps of our nation's highest court.
I was delighted to find when I got there I was free to roam around unrestricted. This was probably one of the most eclectic crowds I've ever been a part of. It was a truly amazing and memorable moment. Rather than describe in detail the people that were there and the positions they advocated, I'll leave you with four pictures. For me, these pictures represent so much of the anxiety and divisiveness around the issues.
Picture #1: Jesus is the Judge
Very vocal and loud, the message of this group is the typical one that news sources love to cover. Filled with standard vitriol and antagonistic language, they often quote isolated tidbits of Scripture out of context. There was a lot of anger in this crowd. As I stood among them, I couldn't help but feel sad, almost sympathetic, wondering what had gone so horribly wrong in their own lives that their only response could be caustic judgement and condemnation. Among them were hecklers who were obviously repulsed by the God these people represented. I wanted to scream, "But that's not the God I serve and love! Let me tell you about who he really is!"
Picture #2: NOH8
This crowd represented a movement that prides itself as accepting of all. The problem is, I found anger here too. Not just anger at unjust systems (I don't have any problem with that), but also contempt for those who disagreed with their position. It was definitely more celebrative with these people, but similar to the last group, I felt like I was being fed propaganda rather than being invited to a conversation. Something else disturbed me: they used small children to lead the cheers and chants as an adult whispered each successive line of the sound-off into their young ears. It was a bit unsettling.
Picture #3: Share your story
I stood and watched these two girls for awhile. They were fascinating. They roamed through the crowd calling for people who were Christians and wanted to share their story of being homosexual. I'm not sure what their purpose was--probably some kind of documentary or school project. They weren't here to editorialize or promote a particular position. They were simply here to listen. And as I listened in I heard several joyfully committed followers of Christ tell their stories.
Picture #4: That's not why we're here
This is the most striking image. These two pastors, one Presbyterian and the other (I believe) Episcopalian, came with their huge cross as they do every year on this particular day. Many reporters wanted to talk to them. "Would you give us an interview?" The Presbyterian replied, "Sure, but I don't think this is the story you want. We're not here because of DOMA or activism on behalf of the gay community. We're here today because it's Maundy Thursday, and we always invite people to come pray through the stations of the cross as we walk around our nation's capital during the holy week." And then they spoke to the crowd, "We don't care if you're gay or straight, that's not why we're here. We invite all to gather around the cross today and pray." Unfortunately, their message was lost amidst the cheering and shouting of the other groups. The Presbyterian pastor's assumption was correct---the media weren't interested. They wanted something more sensational and less rational. But, for me, this is the image that had the most impact.