We Did: Stories of United Methodists Living Marriage Equality
By Rev. Dr. Stephen P. Bauman
It may have been the day after New York State recognized the validity of same-sex marriage that I received a phone call from Lea and Rachel with a whimsical and hopeful, “Well, whaddya think?!” I had come to know this fantastic couple a number of years earlier, welcomed their active and vibrant presence into our congregation, participated in the baptism of their beautiful daughter Nora, and noticed how well they seemed to function as family.
We arranged a meeting to discuss a potential marriage. I was open, but as always, reserved my prerogative until speaking in-depth with the couple seeking the church’s (and my) participation and celebration of their intention. With great clarity I heard how their faith was palpable, expressive and real. They had walked a difficult path, having first met in college in Hattiesburg, Mississippi. In Lea’s words: “Being south Mississippi in 1997, it only took about two days before the whole damn town knew we were together… We were so young, 19 and 21 years old, and we were just so excited to be together, but it was also a bit of a rude awakening for us. Our families struggled, we lost droves of friends and mentors. We felt alone and ostracized. But luckily our love for each other was enough to survive the pain, and we built a strong and steadfast relationship… We had a commitment ceremony, with just a few friends, shrouded in secrecy. We wanted it for us—but we also would have loved to share that day with our families. While celebrating our joy, we also felt rejection and discrimination…it was all there that day.”
Sixteen years later we were sitting together in my office—had it been a two hour conversation?—and I found myself saying to them that in all my years of ministry I had never spoken with a couple that was more prepared for the rigors of marriage. They had already been living it, of course, but how right it seemed, how appropriate that their love and commitment should be celebrated as an expression of God’s love for them and us.
Saint Paul wrote: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law” (Gal. 5:22-23). These gifts, which are so conducive to committed relationships, are not dependent upon one’s sexual orientation. We well know the truth that some homosexual persons can abound in these virtues while some heterosexuals can abound in their opposite. Sexual orientation is no guarantee of righteousness; in fact, in the main it has nothing to do with righteousness per se.
The core of my professional life is dedicated to helping any and all embrace these good gifts, which I believe emanate from a commitment rooted in faith to love God above all things and our neighbors as ourselves, a commitment embodied by Jesus, who so clearly manifested this transcendent ethic in all that he said and did. Why would sincere Christians prevent anyone from honoring this abounding love in their lives? I believe that helping one another learn how to live this love as best we can encourages all of us to live into the integrity of our own lives.
So on October 9, 2011, I participated in the marriage of Lea Matthews and Rachel Black in Central Park, surrounded by their now long-accepting and loving families. We were able to honor the community of friends that has supported them all along the way, even when the world at large did not. It was a remarkable moment for their family. And a wonderful moment for me, as well, confident of God’s presence and power in their lives.
Stephen Bauman is Senior Minister at Christ Church United Methodist in Manhattan.
We Did is a project of Methodists in New Directions (MIND) dedicated to making visible our ministries to LGBTQ people and encouraging others in the UMC to transcend the institutional requirement to discriminate and make their ministries visible, too. It is part of the Biblical Obedience movement sweeping across the United Methodist Church. You can read all the We Did stories here. We invite you to submit your own story to We Did.