[Ed. Note: The following was delivered at an Equality North Carolina sponsored marriage equality vigil in Raleigh, N.C., on March 26.]
In my time as a Presbyterian pastor, I’ve been to my share of tent revivals and homecoming gatherings. This evening’s rally for marriage equality is the homecoming I hoped to find one day. And at those homecomings, one of the popular hymns we would sing is, “Amazing Grace.” It was the first lines of the first verse that captured parts of my life narrative well: “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost, but now am found…” There it is: “I once was lost.” Raised by my parents to be the best little boy in the world in the American middle-class dream, groomed by evangelical leaders of Young Life, InterVarsity and my local Presbyterian Church to be a minister, I did what was expected of me: I once was a married man, who was fortunate to marry his best friend from high school when we were both in college. Aware that I was gay early on in life, I also learned quickly that being gay was a “sin.” I was soon lost in my carefully constructed gay closet, with rough wooden planks of hate, screws and nails of fear and clothes of self-loathing suffocating me in my shadow life.
Burying myself in the work of academe and ministry, adding on top of it the joys of being a full-time dad, I pushed aside who I really was created to be, not believing that I was created to be a man born to be in a significant relationship with a man. However, because of my devotion to reading the Psalms, there was a verse from Psalm 139 that was like a song worm, burrowing into my consciousness: “I, God, knit you in your mother’s womb…wonderful are my works, wonderfully are you made.” These words broke down the façade of the gay closet as I slowly accepted the man I was created to be. Those words were transformed into a beacon of light that helped lead me on my pilgrimage of coming out of a 21-year marriage and embracing all of who I am.
“But now I’m found.” I found my footing and now am working with others to have the choice to marry, a choice I once had when I was in the closet for 30 years. Today, I want what I had when I was in the closet and claimed to be straight. For 17 years (and counting), I’ve been in a significant partnership with my partner, Dean Blackburn. Like a straight couple, we were drawn to each other emotionally, relationally, intellectually, physically and spiritually. In other words, our attraction to one another is similar to that of straight couples. We’re similar to Ben Affleck at the recent Oscar awards who said to his wife Jennifer Gardner: “I want to thank you for working on our marriage for 10 Christmases. It’s good, it is work, but it’s the best kind of work and there’s no one I’d rather work with.” Like Affleck and Gardner, for 17 Christmases, Dean and I have worked and celebrated our union too. What we’re not able to do is celebrate our union as a marriage in North Carolina. This is where the work comes in: working at an historically black college/university (HBCU) of North Carolina Central University (NCCU), I understand what our forebearers of the Civil Rights movement fought for in terms of the civil right to marry the one we love, regardless of one’s skin color.
In 1967, the Supreme Court of the U.S., in Loving v. Virginia, gave interracial couples the right to marry, regardless of one’s racial or ethnic background. It is now our turn, as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer/questioning Americans, to also embrace our civil and constitutional right as American citizens, in which these words are true for us as well: All of us are created equal, that we are endowed, by our Creator, with certain unalienable rights…life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
I was asked today by some of my NCCU students why I stay in the march for freedom? I stay because my African-American forebearers and women who fight for equal rights today, remind me this is a marathon, not a sprint. What pulls me forward is found in the third verse of “Amazing Grace”: “Through many dangers, toils and snares we have already come; ‘Tis Grace that brought us safe thus far and grace will lead us home.”
Friends, let us embrace the freedom to create homes of trust, of commitment to one another and, most importantly, for our children and us: homes of love. Thank you and God bless. : :