Love always wins. It may be denied for a time, but not forever. When it can’t flourish, it burns and breaks us. When love is allowed, it transforms, improves and heals. It makes us deeper, kinder, more caring people. When we love, we see beyond ourselves, and come to experience another person’s full humanity. When we recognize another person’s full humanity, we can see it in everyone else, too. The more love the better.What’s true for individuals is also true for societies. Love strengthens the bonds between people. In so doing, it transforms us into more caring communities. That’s why love deserves society’s support in all the many ways a culture can promote and protect it. The more love the better.How magnificent, then, that marriage equality is coming to Arizona. When all couples share in the joy, security, and context of marriage, love is allowed to flourish, individuals fuse into families, and our society becomes warmer, more caring, more inclusive. This is a change that’s been dreamt about for decades. I didn’t expect to see it in my lifetime.Some people are thrilled by marriage equality; others are terrified. What does it mean to us?I can tell you one thing it does not mean: I, as a clergyperson, will not be required to officiate at any wedding I don’t support. I have always had the right and ability to decline to perform marriages. That will remain the case under this change in law. I would decline to officiate at a wedding if I don’t believe the relationship to be a healthy one. I would decline to do so if I feel that Judaism isn’t at the heart of the new home — after all, I’m a rabbi, not a Justice of the Peace. The state does not and will not tell me whom to marry. In this way, neither my religious beliefs, nor those of any other clergyperson, are infringed by marriage equality. Our individual moral compasses remain intact.What I won’t have, and neither will you, is the right to deny what the state has called legal and binding: the self-declared relationship between two other people. You don’t need to bless it, but you aren’t allowed to trample it, either. Why would you? Like a sapling, love is tender and fragile and good, and therefore merits support.
While traveling in Central America, I had the opportunity to worship at an international, interdenominational, English-speaking church. The congregation contained Africans, Italians, Spaniards, Latinos, Americans, and Asians. We sang old Irish hymns and modern, Australian worship choruses. The service was a mixture of Lutheran, Reformed, and Pentecostal elements. The welcome was given by a Canadian, a German read the Scripture lesson, and an American did the preaching. It was a wonderful, diverse experience, and for a little while I thought the kingdom of God had come.This, I thought, is what worship should be: People of various Christian traditions, streaming together from all tribes and nations, gathered in an idyllic setting, worshiping Christ together. Then the sermon began, and things changed. The pastor’s sermon could have been heard in many an evangelical congregation in North America. It was about who was “right” and who was “wrong,” who was “in” and who was “out.” He summed up his sermon, and his philosophy for life, with these words: “Real life is full assurance that you will go to heaven when you die. That is the gospel.” At great risk of being misunderstood, I could not disagree more.As those words were spoken in that Latino church, the surrounding countryside had just endured its worst flooding in five decades. Gang graffiti clung to the walls and sidewalks just steps from the church’s front door. Thousands of people were trying to survive grinding poverty. To say to all these people and in all these of conditions, that “real life” is checking out of this life for the next one, is a mockery of reality and a refusal to heed the gospel that Jesus actually proclaimed. When Jesus began preaching his gospel in the Galilean hills, his message was clear and singular: “The Kingdom of God is at hand. It is here and now,” he said. “It is today.”Jesus’ intention, it seems, was not to rescue people from earth, per se, transporting them to a far removed heaven. His intention was to put heaven inside of people. A gospel that ignores this fact — and this current world — because our status in the next world has been properly secured, is a distortion of Jesus’ redeeming message.Thus, the gospel according to Jesus, is not just about a harp-playing, cloud-riding, hymn-singing, glory-praising, pie-in-the-sky heaven. It is holistic, all-encompassing deliverance, now. I’m not denying the existence of the afterlife; no, not at all. But I do not believe that we have to die to personally experience the life God has for us.Jesus’ first disciples did not have the benefit of two-thousand years of Christian tradition and theology. All those disciples had were Jesus’ words: “Follow me, for the Kingdom of God is at hand.” They had no promises of a big heavenly payoff. No fluttering angels’ wings, no crossing over the River Jordan to the Hallelujah Shore, no promises of golden streets or pearly gates, no “full assurance that you will go to heaven when you die.” All they had was the invitation of Jesus to “Follow me.” For them, that was enough.