By Kadin Henningsen:
Shabbat was extra sweet last week, thanks to Judge Vaughn Walker’s beautifully penned decision concerning the constitutionality of Proposition 8. In case you missed the decision, Prop 8 is unconstitutional. In the celebration of this momentous occasion I have to ask, “What does it mean?”
Last week’s parshah “Re’eh” opens with, “See, I present before you this day a blessing and a curse.” A blessing and a curse. Are they mutually exclusive, a sort of blessing/curse binary? Or, perhaps like our queer understanding of Genesis and the creation of the first human as the Androgynous – both male and female - might we see this “blessing and curse” as intrinsically connected? I ask, is this ruling both a blessing and a curse within the queer community?
The right to marry for gays and lesbians has been a hard fought battle and one far from over. But what are the long reaching consequences of this victory? The battle for marriage equality has been fought in public. In order to gain ground, we stepped out onto a national stage and told our stories. We’ve put our relationships on display. By being so public about our relationships are we elevating their stature? Are we pinning our hopes on the success of those first 18,000 marriages? Are our expectations for success within marriage making the normalcy lived within private lives less attainable? Does our community, and society at large, expect us as a result of this hard fought struggle to somehow be better at marriage than those in opposite-sex marriages? It seems to me the curse in this struggle is that as a result of such a public battle our successes, and even failures, are up for public judgment.
The vacillating nature of this struggle will hopefully lead to a time when these questions no longer demand our attention. When people don’t have to think about “coming out” to fight for equality in the public sphere, but instead live their lives in community and with community. Perhaps real equality comes when our marriages and relationships just exist, are able to succeed within the larger embrace of community. How do we strike a balance between living our lives on display and living our lives privately but openly within our own communities? While the battle for marriage equality has put our relationships under a national microscope, it is the ability to have our relationships supported by our own elected communities that ensures that our relationships will flourish. Relationships lived in the closet rarely succeed. When this kind of open everyday living and loving arrives it will certainly be a blessing. I am, in fact, hopelessly optimistic. In the long run, marriage equality strikes me as a blessing. So if last week’s ruling by Judge Walker is primarily a blessing, we must then ask ourselves, how?
In last week’s Parashah we read “only at the place that Adonai, your God, will choose from among all your tribes to place God’s name there, shall you seek out God’s presence and come here.” I believe that the fight for marriage equality is captured in the philosophy of Tikkun Olam – which requires us to repair the world. Marriage equality, and more broadly equality in general, affords us a kind of freedom to repair the world through “seeking out God’s presence.” But what does that mean? The Sefat Emet tells us “A person should seek out those places, times, and souls in which holiness is revealed. This is the meaning of ‘seek out God’s presence.’” Perhaps God’s presence resides in space, time, and humanity - in the work we do, the places we go, and our exchanges with the people we meet.
This seeking is deeply ingrained in us - this desire as humans to connect with others, to not feel alone. Perhaps it is in connections with others, and through conversations and acts of loving- kindness that we discover God’s presence. To desire a connection with others is to actively seek out God’s presence. If all of this is so, then to desire – that very act – is the spark of God within each of us.
The poet Sappho once wrote in a simple fragment: “As long as you want.” I read Sappho with an optimist’s heart. Want is related to desire and desire is the act of seeking out. As God is infinite so too is the act of seeking God’s presence. As long as you want—As long as you desire—As long as you seek—So then, you are with God. Seeking God’s presence opens our eyes to experience the world anew. It’s in small discoveries while seeking – in the discovery of seeking itself - that we find God’s presence and meaningful connections with the world around us. As long as we seek, the world is filled with infinite discoveries of God’s presence and infinite blessings.