It is Time to Achieve Wisdom: Rally for Gay Marriage in DCby Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn, D.D.
I remember that the words on the form required me to swear that I, a rabbi, was a “duly ordained minister of the Gospel in holy communion with my church.” If I, a rabbi, wanted to be licensed to perform marriages in the District of Columbia, I would first have to swear in writing that I was a “duly ordained minister of the Gospel in holy communion with my church”! That was 1980! The words on the form came directly from the text in a DC statute. The words were law. But as so many people of faith and fairness know only too well, just because something is legal does not mean it is just!
I refused to sign that form. I rewrote it instead. I then signed the revision and sent that in. It was rejected.
But after the struggle that ensued, I not only received the privilege to perform marriages in the District, but the Chief Judge of the DC Superior Court asked me to rewrite the unjust statute so that it would be inclusive. He would then take the new language to the council and the mayor. I did. He did. The law was changed.I also remember, as do many of you, anti-miscegenation provisions in the law. Anti-miscegenation statutes banned cohabitation and sex between two members of different races. Everyone was given a color classification: white, black, brown, red or yellow. No mixing of races in marriage was allowed. It took until 1967 to get the last anti-miscegenation law off the books. 1967!
In the 1950s it was estimated that as much as 96% of the white population in the United States favored a ban on interracial marriage. It was legal. It was deemed religiously proper by most. But it was not just.
You know well what Dr. King wrote: “Any law that uplifts human personality is just and any law that degrades human personality is unjust.” (Letter from a Birmingham Jail, 1963)
You know Bible well too. You know of the prophet Micah. You know chapter 6,verse 8: “He has told you O man what is good, and what the Lord requires of you: Only to do justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with your God! Then will your name achieve wisdom.”
For most of modern history, a vast majority of people of faith read their Holy Scriptures and concluded that people of different races must not be permitted to marry. The laws they passed to support that belief were unjust. In changing those laws we affirmed the words of Micah and Dr. King.
Everyone here tonight knows too that the end of anti-miscegenation statutes did not complete the quest for equality in marriage. Bible and religious tradition are still used to justify preventing two consenting, loving adults of the same sex from joining together in holy matrimony under the law. But once again, as has had to happen so often in the past, more and more people of faith are applying Micah to interpret Scriptural law and civil law, as Dr. King called upon us to do.
And so I have come to read Genesis chapter 2, in the light of Micah, chapter 6 and now see the words this way: It is not good for a person who wishes to be married to be forced to remain unwed. Therefore, shall I make true companions among people. It shall be possible for a human being to leave the home of one’s upbringing and go forth to find the right spouse, so that the two become one.
[Speech given by Rabbi Bruce E. Kahn, D.D. at an interfaith rally/program/service in support of a bill to permit same sex marriage in Washington, DC. Asbury United Methodist Church October 29, 2009. Sponsored by DC Clergy United for Marriage Equality. He was the only cleric invited to speak who both worked and resided outside the District.]