Wednesday, April 22, Margy and I were with thousands of supporters at the Public Hearing for LD 1020, a bill to extend the legal institution of civil marriage to same-sex couples in Maine. I am writing in red, because red was the color of the day. Supporters were asked to wear red, and entering the Civic Center, I saw a literal sea of red across the room. Newspaper reports said that supporters outnumbered opponents by a margin of 2 to1, some said even 4 to 1. It was incredibly moving to be with thousands of people, of all ages and orientations, in support of full equality for all people and all families. It was wonderful to see many many people from our church throughout the day--and I am sure that there were others I didn't see--volunteering behind the Freedom to Marry table, wearing red, filling out comment forms, testifying, or helping others to testify. I know that many had been working long hours as well in preparation for this event.
I was there with the Religious Coalition for the Freedom to Marry in Maine. We began the day in our clergy garb, lining the entryway, being a visible sign of religious support for same-sex couples. So many people stopped to thank us for being there. One person said he was thanking every single one of us, it was that important to him. And it was important. Later on, everyone had to listen to so much testimony from the opposition, claiming that God condemned homosexuality, and called people sinners, and much worse that I won't even repeat. We were there to bear witness to the love of God, and the holiness of love! We were there to say that all people, and all families, are worthy of equality and respect. There were about forty of us clergy there between 7 and 9 a.m. and many more arrived later.
The way the hearing was organized, testimony was divided into half hour segments, first from proponents at one microphone, and and then from opponents at another. Each person had only 3 minutes to speak. Written testimony was also being accepted by the committee. Knowing that there wouldn't be time for all of us to speak, many of us in the Religious Coalition had prepared and submitted written testimony, and planned for our oral testimony to be given by clergy from diverse faith traditions. In the morning, my colleague, Rev. Deborah Davis Johnson, minister of Immanuel Baptist in Portland, talked about how Baptists believe that each person must interpret the Bible for themselves, and that Jesus taught love for all people.
After lunch, we had our official testimony from the Religious Coalition, with Rev. Mark Worth, minister of the UU Congregation of Castine, speaking on our behalf. When he came up to the microphone, all of us lined up behind him across the entire front of the room--estimates were that there were from 70 to 100 of us at that point. The crowd erupted in a standing ovation before he even began to speak. We represented clergy and other religious leaders from 17 religious denominations, and all areas of the state of Maine, uniting in one voice to support equality in marriage for same sex couples. We submitted our Declaration in Support of the Freedom to Marry, with 166 signatures, along with other written testimony. After Mark finished speaking, there was another extended ovation. Then we heard from Rev. David Gaewski, Conference Minister of the Maine Conference of the United Church of Christ, standing with thirty UCC ministers. In that same half hour, we also heard from Heidi Shott, standing with a group of Episcopal clergy, reading testimony from the Episcopal Bishop Stephen Lane of the Diocese of Maine; Our other speakers were Rev. Don Rudalevige, speaking with Methodist clergy, and Rabbi Hillel Katzir, speaking with other Jewish rabbis. It was profoundly uplifting. Hopefully the full testimony will be able to be posted on our Religious Coalition website.
Margy and I stayed at the hearing until the very end. By then the crowd was much smaller, though we were still sitting within a sea of red. Near the end, it was obvious that not everyone standing in line would be able to testify. And the opposition had the last scheduled half hour. I decided to stand in line at that point, since I had prepared oral testimony, even knowing it was unlikely there would be time. For me it was a way to continue to bear witness to the religious support for equality in marriage. As the time passed 8 p.m., Senator Larry Bliss, who was moderating the proceedings, said that the committee had decided, given that so many people had waited so long, to allow anyone currently standing in line--and no one else was allowed to join the lines--to give one-minute testimony before they closed the hearing for the day. What a great surprise! Our line was twice as long at that point, so they heard from half of us, then the opposition line, and then the last several people, including me, gave our testimony. I was the third to the end of the line.
Later, Margy told me that my words became something like a benediction for the end of the day. Here is what I said, in my one minute:
"My name is Mykel Johnson. I am the minister of the Allen Avenue Unitarian Universalist Church in Portland, Maine, and I live in North Yarmouth. My faith teaches that everything in creation reveals the beauty and love of God. As human beings, we can hardly begin to imagine the depth and the height, and the width and the breadth of God's love. God is love, and all who abide in love, abide in God, and God in them.
"I first began to care about equal marriage for same sex couples because of two women in my previous congregation. These women had been loving partners for thirty-three years. Everyone in my church was inspired by their commitment and affection. When I observe the love between two such people, I see the love of God shining in our midst. My faith tradition joyfully celebrates their union as a holy marriage. I know that not every religious tradition blesses or honors this love. But in the face of such religious disagreements, in our common civic life, a wide definition of inclusion and fairness must prevail. Please vote yes!"