Not Promised Anything – a New Jersey Reflection
Julia Hamilton, Director of the Unitarian Universalist Legislative Ministry of New Jersey.
There were hundreds of us at the state house yesterday, gathering out in front in the cold morning air. My fellow faithful and stalwart Unitarian Universalist clergy turned out once again, sporting their most colorful stoles, standing side by side with Lutheran, United Church of Christ, Episcopal, Jewish, Quaker, and other religious leaders, clearly outnumbering the opposition. As we gathered and the TV cameras rolled, we led the group in song. “This Little Light of Mine” and “This Land is Our Land” were crowd favorites.
A little bit later, we spread out into the building, finally getting in out of the cold, standing in hallways and doorways and outside committee rooms (and taxing the resources of the always-patient security guards). We took advantage of every chance interaction; “Senator Rice, I’m here today to ask for your support on the marriage equality bill…” as the elevator doors closed and we struggled to put our stories into a three-sentence statement that would be compelling enough to sway a Senator on the fence.
Finally, we gathered in the galleries and filled the overflow rooms to listen to the debate on the senate floor. Nearly two hours of passionate speeches, tears welling up in Senator Lesniak’s eyes as he told the story of why he was co-sponsoring this bill. Those who spoke in opposition invoked “traditional marriage” “radical social change” and, the favorite tactic of the moment, “Let the people decide”. Despite a senator reading directly from James Madison’s Federalist Papers, trying to explain the idea of how our government insures the rights of the minority by preventing a tyranny of the majority, the civics lesson went unlearned, and the Constitution went unheeded.
The Marriage Equality bill failed in the New Jersey Senate last night, by a vote of 14-20, with three Senators refusing to go on record either way.
It’s hard not to feel a sense of deflation and a deep sadness at this loss. How do you sit in the same place with a tearful couple from your congregation when the person sitting in front of you just yelled “Halleluiah” at the outcome? What do you say to the young volunteers and staff, some of whom were fresh from the disappointment in Maine, when they reach out for a hug and reassurance that this all will be worth it in the end? How can I go back to congregations across the state and with words of hope and encouragement when, right now, I feel like all the air has been let out of the room?
It is not easy, this road to justice. But then again, “easy” is not what we were promised. In fact, we were not promised anything. We are the ones who have made promises, a covenant with one another that we will not give up, that we will be here for as long as it takes. It is a commitment that I do not take lightly, and every time we have the chance to stand on the side of love, every time we show up and make good on that covenant, we move one step closer to the beloved community that we are building together, right here and now. Today was one of those steps – not the last one, but an important one. Hearts have been opened and relationships begun. And to that, I say “halleluiah”.