Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Marriage Equality Arc


Okay, for any of us who have had a breather, the game is back afoot. Marriage equality remains a key civil rights issue. Same-sex marriage will be fully realized, even in this very socially conservative nation.

There is no better moment than now to reflect again on the ideas of that old Transcendentalist, abolitionist, Underground Railroad leader, Unitarian reformer Rev. Theodore Parker. He engaged in many seminal struggles that would not find quick resolution, not in a ballot initiative nor in a court decision nor in some mystical and sudden enlightenment of the masses. Not even knowing that many of his causes would not resolve until after his death dissuaded him.

The frail minister died at 49 in 1860. He didn't even live to know the emancipation of the slaves here.

Parker is surely best known now for his inspirational long view. The well redacted version by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. is what many of us know — The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.

That carries the sentiment. Of course, as a liberal preacher, he could not have been quite as precise. His wordier original was, "Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice. Things refuse to be mismanaged long."

That illustrated as well his humility. Yet in this thought, he clearly was and is right.

I keep the idea in mind and it helps me from being discouraged at setbacks like the passage of Prop. 8 last month.

We saw it with gay-rights in Maine and SSM in Massachusetts. In both states (among other examples), conflicts continued for several years before the public joined the legislatures and courts in saying in effect, "What's the matter here?" The rest of the industrialized world has largely gotten beyond creating second-class citizenship for groups. Only here do we continue to debate such civil rights or pretend that voting on them is a matter of democracy.

On both coasts, with each vote, even by plebiscite when it came to that, the arc has bent more toward justice. If the California courts don't overturn Prop. 8, there surely will be another ballot question and almost as certainly, it will finally favor equality as it did in Maine when it came the third time.

We can look at those who would deny or strip rights from fellow citizens as misguided, nasty or cruel. Doing so may make us feel superior and wiser, but it does nothing to deliver those rights.

Instead, Parker's view is the clearest one. As he did his entire short life, we must work toward justice, knowing that we are helping our universe bend further where it is going.

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5 comments:

Bill Baar said...

I shall take it for granted that in making man male and ftmale providing them with instinctive desires for union and providing no other way for the perpetuation of the race except by such union God established marriage in the very nature of man's body I think the spirit of one sex is as incomplete without the other as the body and that there is as much a spiritual desire for the spirit of the other sex in men and women as a bodily desire for the bodies of the opposite sex only in most persons it is not so strong On these two points I think we do not differ

Theodore Parker A Biography By Octavius Brooks Frothingham


From one of Parker's letters.

I favor same sex marriage. I'm glad my Church will perform them.

But I don't know if we do Parker any favors by imputing beliefs do him I doubt he shared.

massmarrier said...

Imputation is yours and stretched remarkably thin. He wasn't even an advocate for interracial marriage, which had not been raised when he was still struggling against slavery.

Moreover, Dr. King did not address gay rights, which was not in the fore in his lifetime. Yet, the very credible source of his widow said repeatedly that he would surely have favored it as it became an issue.

Parker favored and fought for justice and equality. To his death, he remained open, growing and flexible. We all should.

Bill Baar said...

...by such union God established marriage in the very nature of man's body I think the spirit of one sex is as incomplete without the other..

I don't doubt P's commitment to Social Justice... he just didn't consider same-sex unions as involved in the battle. Based on the above it seems to me he considered marriage of opposite sexes biologicaly and spirtually encoded in us...

I'm hardly a Parker authority, but I don't think rewriting our History is a great way to advance any case.

We'll end up not understanding our own past.... that's unwise.

massmarrier said...

If understanding the past means extrapolating from the frozen details without seeing the underlying concepts, we are left with what Emerson referred to as a foolish consistency.

Parker had very specific social and political goals, clear to him by the demands of the moment. Yet, even his then very Christian theology developed in relationship with Channing and others of the period. Misunderstanding of him would be to suppose he was rigid and frozen.

By the bye, both the BPL and the Boston Athenaeum have his sermons and writings. Plus, the Athenaeum has The Liberal Preacher, which has sermons from several such.

Bill Baar said...

Ideas have hisotries and while Parker may well have been on the path towards where we are at today, he wasn't quite there, and it's fair to ask I think if he would have ever reached where we're at.

This is never more so than with human sexuality where the notion of orientation I think would have been lost on Parker, as I suspect it is on African Christians today.

I don't think we serve Parker's legacy recruiting him for causes today for he is indeed frozen (dead indeed).

We're left only with his words and while we may link the outlines of the path from him to us, I think it best not to bring him along for the cause in quite the way you have. He has these letters stuffed away and we shouldn't parse out what we like from what we don't.

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