Prior to going to seminary, I worked in the performing arts as a stage manager. I have a lot of colorful friends from those days. And I have a lot of queer friends from those days: musical theater is one of the natural habitats of gays and lesbians. What I didn’t realize, as I discerned a call to shift from ministry backstage to ordained ministry, is that I would end up with still more queer friends by entering the priesthood. Indeed, with the likely exception of hairdressing, ordained ministry might be the only field with more gays than the stage. For someone who grew up assuming that the church was homophobic by its very definition, that was a big and a welcome surprise.
One of the practical upshots of my circle of friends is that, in addition to having access to excellent fashion advice, the question of equality for LGBTQ folks isn’t an abstraction for me. While I am white, male, middle-class, and hopelessly straight (there pretty much isn’t a category of privilege that I wasn’t born into), laws which bestow — or which withhold — dignity to homosexuals concern me because they concern people whom I love. When the state of Washington legalized same-sex marriage, when North Carolina joined the crowd which has banned it, or, Wednesday, when the president spoke his heart and said that marriage isn’t just for some of us, those news items didn’t call up the image of a theoretical marriage in my mind. Rather, each announcement reminded me of the marriages of Ben and Arthur, of Peter and Thomas, of Sandra and Laurie, of Katie and Mary Anne, and of so many other friends. All of these marriages, to use a big theological word, are generative: they add to the sum of love in the world. And, in some ineffable and holy way, they make other marriages, including my own marriage to my wife, stronger.
Tuesday’s passage of Amendment One in North Carolina was a hugely discouraging moment for many of us, especially because it came on the heels of so much good news. Prop One passed notwithstanding the passionate advocacy of a lot of people for a “no” vote, including a lot of clergy (see this, for instance). The referendum results reminded me of those moments in my own life when fear blinds me to love. But they also remind me that good news hides even in injustice. As any number of lawyers and historians have argued, human beings don’t make laws to prohibit the inconceivable. There are no laws, for instance, which speak to the responsible use of time travel or the ownership of land in other solar systems because, well, those things are impossible right now. Ten years ago, same-sex marriage in North Carolina was in the time-travel category; it was impossible and, therefore, the law was silent on the subject. Today, in a strange and a painful way, equality in that state is a little closer.
Martin Luther King Jr. famously proclaimed that the arc of history bends towards justice. Dr. King was right: history is bending even as we speak. It is being bent into something new by the witness of people like my friends. It is, slowly but inexorably, being reshaped from fear into love.
The Rev. Martin Elfert is an immigrant to the Christian faith. After the birth of his first child, he began to wonder about the ways in which God was at work in his life and in the world. In response to this wondering, he joined Christ Church Cathedral in Vancouver, British Columbia, where he and his new son were baptized at the Easter Vigil in 2005 and where the community encouraged him to seek ordination. Martin served on the staff of the Episcopal Cathedral of St. John the Evangelist in Spokane, Wash. from 2011-2015. He is now the rector of Grace Memorial Episcopal Church in Portland, Oreg.