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Sunday, October 14, 2012

Souls to the Polls

Presented by Rev. Diane Teichert with Jonathan Mawdsley, Worship Associate

Souls to the Polls

A sermon preached by the Reverend Diane Teichert

Paint Branch Unitarian Universalist Church

October 14, 2012

I really do hope this is my last sermon on marriage equality.

Let me re-state that:  this WILL BE my LAST sermon on marriage equality!

Can I hear an AMEN?

I’ve preached on it here three times already, plus several mentions at other times.  Here are some highlights...

The first time was in my first winter as your minister, on February 14th, 2010 and it was called “Re-imagining Valentine’s Day.”

I declared, “Let's re-imagine a Valentine's Day when gay couples can hold hands, sneak a kiss, buy flowers or gifts for one other openly, without experiencing stares, unkind comments, open hostility or violence.

Let's imagine a Valentine's Day when a man can say to his male partner, “On this Valentine's Day, I want to ask, will you marry me?” and know that it will carry as much weight in our society as if his partner was a woman.

Let's imagine a Valentine's Day when a woman can say to her female lover, “On this Valentine's Day, I want to ask, will you marry me?” and know that it opens up for them the same rights and responsibilities, challenges and delights as it would if her lover was a man.”

Toward the end of the sermon, I announced that I signed the Maryland Freedom to Marry Pledge, committing myself to forgo signing Maryland marriage licenses for heterosexual couples until it is legal to sign them for gay couples as well. As a spiritual leader, I took a stand. I asked for your support and you said “We do!”

On that day, you each had been asked to wear to church a shirt of one of the colors of the rainbow. After the service, kids and adults alike assembled in a massive human rainbow behind me as I announced to a video camera my commitment to forego signing Maryland Marriage Licenses until it is legal to sign them for gay couples as well as straight. You cheered! The video is on our website and was for a time on the UUA’s Standing on the Side of Love website. And a photo of our human rainbow is on my Facebook page.

I next preached on marriage equality nearly a year later, on January 31st, 2011, the day before a marriage equality lobby day in Annapolis, and told a story about one of you, Iris Peabody. (She gave me permission to tell it then, and again, today, but this time she doesn’t want me to mention her name as many times as I did then, so I won’t! She’s here today so, Iris, could you stand and give a wave instead?)

One day that fall, someone knocked on Paint Branch UU member Iris Peabody’s door. She looked through the peephole and saw a man and a woman on her doorstep. Given that Election Day was approaching and they looked like politicians, she answered the door. Yes, they were looking for her vote, and to put a sign on her lawn. The woman was the candidate.

Remembering our service about marriage equality the previous Valentines Day, how it helped her see that civil unions weren’t sufficient and caused her to resolve to ask candidates about their position on the matter, Iris asked something like, “Well, what is your position on equal marriage?”

“Well,” the candidate began, and I bet Iris wondered what was coming next. “I’m lesbian myself!” And Iris said, “Well, I’m a Unitarian Universalist… and we support marriage equality. Do you?”

Go, Iris!

I ask you that again today, “What’s your Iris Peabody moment? When have you worked up your courage and spoke out for GLBT rights?”

Many of us did exactly that at the Lobby Day the next day and with our elected officials thereafter. But, unfortunately, we lost the campaign for marriage equality that winter, 2010. It passed the Senate, which was a surprise to many, but then it failed in the House.

However, the campaign barely faltered before it was up and running again and our church was in the thick of it. We hosted the kick-off of the new campaign in Prince George’s County that summer and later a weekly phone bank through the winter of 2012. Staff organizers hung out at our coffee hour many a Sunday, signing you up to be activists, and we raised $1,000 in a Special Collection for the educational arm of the campaign.

I preached my third sermon, on Valentines Day Weekend of this year, just before another Lobby Day. In that sermon I said that, just as we are all on a spiritual journey, the process of becoming a supporter of marriage equality is a journey. Few of us who feel like it is a no-brainer today can say that we always felt that way. Like President Obama said a few months later, “I evolved on this.”

I suggested then that one-to-one conversations with people we know are among the most important contributions we Unitarian Universalists can make to winning marriage equality. I painted a picture of the journey from opposition to activist support. I said that each of us can engage with co-workers, neighbors, friends and family in heartfelt conversation – not argument, but listening, affirming conversation in which we try to make a connection of commonality – to move vocal opponents to being silent opponents, to move silent opponents to feeling undecided, to move those on the fence to being silent supporters, and silent supporters to being vocal, activist supporters engaging in conversations themselves.

My favorite moment of the Valentine’s Day Lobby Day last winter occurred when the governor was reading the list of all the endorsers of the rally, one after another, but when he read aloud “Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of Maryland,” for the first time a cheer went up from the crowd, and the governor commented, “Well, they’re here!” From across the state, we had turned out, including many of us from PBUUC.

Well, the Civil Marriage Protection Act passed both the Senate and the House later that month with a lot of support (and political pressure) from Governor O’Malley and he signed it in to law on March 1st. We celebrated the following Sunday. But the law was challenged by a successful referendum petition and now, as I hope you all know, it will be on the ballot on November 6th. If it wins a majority of the general vote will it become law on January 1st. If it fails, it will be years before the law can be introduced again, and the high hopes of Maryland’s – even of the nation’s – gay and lesbian couples and allies will be dashed on the rocks of despair.

For this to be my last sermon on marriage equality, and for Maryland to be the first state in the union to win marriage equality at the ballot box, we need 1.3 million YES votes on Election Day! So, across the state this weekend, houses of worship have done or are doing what we are doing this morning:  rallying our spirits for this last push, so that when “souls go to the polls” on Election Day, they vote YES for fairness and equality for all Maryland families. And last week, Marylanders for Marriage Equality announced its “1 Million Conversations in 1 Month” campaign, the best means we have of counteracting the opposition’s misleading, divisive ads now appearing in the DC and Baltimore media markets at a faster clip than we can afford for our ads to appear.

So, today, right now, let’s prepare to be among the people having those million conversations, so that when they go to the polls, instead of remembering the fearful ads, they remember that a supporter of marriage equality took a sincere interest in them and their reasons for being against, or unsure about, marriage equality. Let them remember that we listened, connected, and shared our personal journey of support for marriage equality in an inviting way. Not facts and figures, but an emotional connection. Like Jonathan Mawdsley did in his Chalice Reflection this morning, and President Obama did when he described being at the dinner table with his daughters and realizing that they couldn’t understand why the gay parents of their school friends couldn’t be married like he and the First Lady.

Please take a moment, in silence, to think now of a personal way for you to share why you support marriage equality with someone who does not, as yet. Think about the gay and lesbian people you know, or their children who deserve a secure family. If you are gay or lesbian, how will the possibility of marriage change the level of acceptance you feel? Or if you are married, what does your marriage mean to you, and how you can imagine the same would be true for gay couples? Or what is it about our UU faith calls you to support marriage equality? For me, affirming the inherent worth and dignity of every person is very much like the Biblical notion of “we are all made in the image of God” and so we ALL deserve fairness and equality. Take a moment to get one personal statement in your mind.


Now, let me suggest a flow of conversation, keeping in mind what you just came up with so you are ready to share it. The flow starts with THANKS and ASK, then goes to LISTEN, SHARE. Then you might repeat ASK, LISTEN, SHARE gain. The conversation ends with a final ASK and THANKS. 

For example:  First, you thank your friend, co-worker, neighbor or family member for talking with you and say that there’s something that is very important to you that you’d wanted to discuss, but it’s a little hard to bring up. Or, maybe someone in the grocery store sees your Vote YES for Marriage Equality button (which, by the way, are available in the foyer). However the conversation begins, THANK them for their interest and ASK the person how they feel about marriage equality, Question 6.

If they are undecided or against it, ASK what concerns them about marriage for gay and lesbian couples. LISTEN. Find a way to ask about what marriage means to them – if they are married, ASK “What led you to get married?” LISTEN for what you feel in common with them. Then SHARE what marriage means to you and talk about your own experience with gay people, highlighting similarities. Then comes the final ASK:  will they think more about this before Election Day and consider voting FOR fairness and equality? And end with THANKS.

Why say thank you so much? Think of the conversation as an opportunity to be hospitable. Think of the person you are talking with as if he or she is a guest in your home. You wouldn’t argue with a guest, but you might inquire about their preferences, and invite understanding and dialogue. The goal of these conversations is not to change somebody, but to help them move them along toward support of marriage equality or at least sow doubt in their mind.

OK, so now you have set in your mind your personal reflection on why you support fairness and equality for gay couples. And you have a flow to follow:  THANKS, ASK, LISTEN, SHARE; ASK, LISTEN, SHARE; the final ASK and the final THANKS.

[Then everyone was given instructions for pairing up and trying out a two conversations]

You will have a chance to try out your conversations some more, during Enrichment Hour today, starting at 11:45 in Rooms 2/3. We have been asked to do a phone bank today, so instead of the training I planned, Nancy Boardman, our phone bank queen, and I will host it, with script and record sheets provided by Marylanders for Marriage Equality. If you cannot stay today, please come tomorrow night, or any Monday night between now and Election Day, between 6:30 and 9:00—there’s a million conversations to have!

Earlier, I mentioned that across the state this weekend - whether on Friday night, Saturday morning, this morning or some other time - clergy in houses of worship are preaching on marriage equality and congregations are taking action. I want to close with words that were written for everyone to use this weekend.

"We add our voice to the symphony of faith claims this weekend throughout Maryland, lifting up the heart-song of love, justice, dignity and family for the sake of marriage equality.  In every corner; from temples, churches, sacred circles and meetings, the truth of equanimity and mutual support is gaining ground in our lives.  Let us honor all families and fairness in law."


Note:  this version of the sermon tells more of the recent story of marriage equality in Maryland than the sermon in delivery could, to allow time to for complete instructions for the role-playing exercise, which have been deleted from this version.


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