Monday, September 29, 2008

Unexamined Privilege

About a month ago I had a conversation with a friend. I'm not sure how it came up, but he commented about a same-sex couple that he had seen at a concert in a church, and said that he was offended when one of them put her arm around the other. When I looked puzzled, he said that he would never put his arm around his wife in a public place.

I didn't seriously challenge his statement simply because I couldn't think of what to say except that it didn't bother me when couples showed affection in public. It was only later that I realized that my friend was ignoring one important fact - that he could show affection to his wife in public without anyone taking offense. He and I and all married heterosexuals have in our society the unearned and far too often unexamined privilege of showing affection to our spouses in public. Like so many other pieces of privilege, this is usually unexamined until we see someone else who is not like us doing the privileged thing.

I believe that we are called by God to examine the unearned privileges we take for granted. Not that we necessarily have to give them up, but that we might see how important it is for others to be able to enjoy the same privileges.

Several years ago I was given the opportunity at a conference to identify some of the privileges that I as a heterosexual have that gay and lesbian friends don't have. As I thought of the privilege of marriage, of celebrating at our wedding the love which my wife and I share, tears began to form in my eyes as I thought of the gay and lesbian couples that I knew who had been denied that privilge and joy.

That situation is changing, slowly. I overheard a couple at coffee hour after church during my vacation this summer mention their three weddings. I asked them why three and they told me that the first and most important was an exchange of vows and rings with just the two of them and God present. The second was a civil ceremony in Canada, and the third was a glorious "high church" celebration in their parish.

I am so thankful that things are changing. I'm writing this while on sabbatical in Massachusetts, where same-sex couples can be married. I will return in December to the parish in East Aurora, New York, a state where the Governor has ordered that all state agencies must recognize all legal marriages. I pray for the day when the Episcopal Church which I love will decide that the covenant of marriage is for gay and lesbian couples, as well as for folks like my wife and me.

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