The key to winning marriage equality

By The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, Member of the Task Force’s National Religious Leadership Roundtable

My mother did not congratulate me when I announced my engagement. It wasn’t because she didn’t like the person I was going to marry. It was because she was not comfortable with the idea of two men getting married, especially when one of them happened to be her son. It wasn’t that she wanted to deny me any of my civil rights or for me to be treated differently than anyone else under the law. She was uncomfortable because this just didn’t fit her idea of marriage to the point she wasn’t even sure she could come to the wedding.

I became engaged in the spring of 2004, the year when 11 states enacted anti-gay marriage measures in the general election, including my own state of Ohio. But much has changed since then. A shift in the polls shows a steady increase of support for marriage equality, particularly since the 2008 passage of Proposition 8 in California. A Gallup poll last May showed that 53 percent of Americans believe gay marriage should be legal, up from 36 percent in 2006.

What has changed? For one, same sex-marriage is now legal in six states and the District of Columbia, accomplished mostly by the legislative process. However, the main thing that has changed is that more people know someone who is same-gender loving. That same Gallup Poll reported that people who know someone who is gay are 20 percent more likely than others to support gay marriage.

“Relationships are how people get along,” was the mantra of an agency I served while a seminarian. People are coming to recognize the importance of marriage equality for same-sex couples by encountering the people who are affected by the policies we, as voters, enact at the ballot. These relationships make the worth and dignity of every family real. These relationships bring to light the values of equality under the law and the pledge we make as citizens of “liberty and justice for all.”

What got my mother to my wedding was our relationship (along with some advocacy from my sister, for which I’m deeply grateful). My mother’s love for me and her trust of my character proved more valuable than her discomfort. She also has come to recognize the deep love that my husband and I share, as well as the integrity of our relationship as we work to faithfully live the vocation of marriage. Both my parents love and support us and our right to marry.

The political right has often used gay marriage as a wedge to divide the electorate, which is why I suspect it is so prevalent in the platform of the Republican National Committee. But this tactic is losing its effectiveness as the values of relationships and equality serve to transform hearts and minds, bridging the divide. If marriage equality wins at the polls this November, and there is every reason to believe it will, relationships will play a major role.

The Rev. Michael Schuenemeyer, is the Minister for Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Concerns United Church of Christ Wider Church Ministries.