Friday, April 17, 2009

Tying the Knot

I should never promise to post on my blog right before I go on vacation. Nevertheless, here is last week's sermon on Marriage Equality:

In between undergraduate school and rabbinical school, I lived in Los Angeles. For about two years I worked for a company called “Cootie Shots.” We were a small theatre company—with actors, director, and stage manager we were six people. We would travel to elementary schools and high schools all over LA and the surrounding areas to deliver what we called, “Theatrical inoculations against bigotry,” in the form of a 30 minute play comprised of short vignettes.

One of my favorite of these vignettes is a Dr. Seuss-like tale by Mark Rosenthal called “The Parable of the Stimples.” Here is a brief synopsis:

In a faraway land there lived a people who were just like us in almost every way. They were all different. They were different shapes, sizes, colors, and abilities. Some of them were born with a special ability. The ability to make funny noises. These people were called Stimples, and making funny noises made them very happy.

People who couldn’t make funny noises were called Blimbers. Blimbers and Stimples lived among one another. They were friends, relatives, or colleagues. They would go through life not knowing who was who unless a Stimple got caught making a funny noise. That’s right, got caught. You see, funny noises were considered wrong, weird, or something to fear!
Nobody really knows why Blimbers didn’t like Stimples. That’s just always the way things were. Mama and Papa Blimbers made sure their children knew that being a Blimber was the only proper way to be, because Stimples were strange.

Some Blimbers didn’t care what the Stimples did. They were fine being friends, or they just ignored them. Others really didn’t like the noises, and they believed funny noises were evil. They tried to change any Stimples they met. They would even try to keep them from making funny noises by making laws to get them in trouble if they made funny noises.

The parable continues to tell the story of Gilbert, a happy little boy who discovers that he is a Stimple, and cannot be convinced that there is anything wrong with it. In fact, Gilbert has a teacher who they find out is a Stimple, and the Blimbers try to get her fired, but Gilbert stands up for her and all the other Stimples in town.

And everyone lives happily and noisily ever after.

If only it were that easy.

Gilbert’s tale is just a story, but it is so much like real life for so many Americans. Every day, Americans are denied some of the rights that many of us hold sacred because they are different.
This week we celebrate Passover, our Festival of Freedom. We declare at our Seder tables that we empathize with the plight of our ancestors who were enslaved in Egypt. We declare during the Ha Lachma Anya section, “This year we are slaves. Next year may we be free.” Everyone has something that keeps us enslaved. We all have Pharaohs that rule us, often harshly. For approximately 10% of Americans, there are laws that forbid them to marry whomever they want. For our gay and lesbian population, civil liberty is being denied. In most of the country, a loving, long term relationship between two people who pay taxes and contribute to society is not legally recognized if they happen to be the same gender.

Why? I have no idea.

Marriage is a legally binding relationship that two people enter into when they love each other so much, that they want to share everything, including their rights. According to organizations against marriage equality, marriage is the union of a man and a woman. The problem with this limiting definiton is that no two marriages are the same. We cannot truly understand marriage based on a definition. We should understand marriage based on the positive examples of such a union. Marriage should be defined as mutual love, respect, support, and building a life together in partnership.

We often hear organizations claiming that gay marriage is “a threat to the sanctity of marriage.” I have never heard this talking point explained. How can it possibly be a threat? The way I understand it, when gay people marry, they don’t use up the state’s marriage licenses; my marriage is still legally recognized; Natalie and I will not suddenly fall out of love; and our children will still be legitimate. In the words of Evan Wolfson, director of Freedom to Marry, “The idea that treating gay people as equal under the civil rights laws of this country would be a threat to other people is bogus.”

But there is good news in our recent national history. This Tuesday the state legislature of Vermont passed a law recognizing same-sex marriage. Vermont joins the ranks of Massachusetts, Connecticut, and Iowa as leaders in marriage equality. In the words of Barbara Weinstein, Legislative Director of the RAC,
The Vermont legislature made clear that all loving, committed couples, regardless of the sexual orientation of those involved, deserve respect and recognition from their government.

I am proud of the four states that have legalized marriage for everyone, just as I am hopeful for states like New York, whose governor has declared he would sign a marriage equality bill into law. I am thrilled to live in a world where we can make a noise. Not a silly noise like the Stimples, but a loud noise. A noise that will ring in the ears of our legislators and let them know that we want everyone in America to be legally bound to their basheret, their soul’s true mate. We can make this noise with what we probably have close to us right now—our cell phones. Program your state and federal politicians’ phone numbers into your phones. For Floridians, Senator Nelson is 202-224-5274, Senator Martinez is 202-224-3041, Governor Christ is 850-488-7146, and Representative Wasserman-Schultz is 202-225-7931. For other states or to find your representative, go to It is so easy to call the people whose job it is to represent you to your government. Usually the people who answer the phone are friendly, well-informed, and willing to help. Make a noise, tell them you are a tax payer and a voter. Tell them you want marriage right for all Floridians and all Americans.

Not every statement has to make noise. Some of the boldest statements are made without a sound.

Perhaps you have already noticed the white knot on my lapel. You may have noticed similar knots on the tuxedo lapels of several attendees at the most recent Academy Awards: Emile Hirsch, Josh Brolin, Richard Jenkins, Anne Hathaway’s father and many more sported white knots on their lapels. We have all been to, an organization that recently started using a white knot as the sign of support for marriage equality. Pinning a white knot to our clothing declares to the world that we believe everyone should have the right to tie the knot.

I recently purchased enough white ribbon and pins to make 200 white knots for anyone who so desires. After services tonight I will be pinning anyone who asks with a white knot. The ribbon and pins will remain on my desk, and I will gladly help everyone who wants to make a noise for marriage equality do so. Together we can make a bold statement in favor of marriage equality. On the phone and close to our heart.

As the closing of “The Parable of the Stimples” reminds us:

Once the Blimbers saw there was nothing to fear,
Then those weird, funky Stimples did not seem so queer.
They laughed at the same things! They didn’t have warts!
Some were very religious. Some even played sports.
But the one thing in common all these folks did share
Wasn’t their tastes or the clothes they would wear.
It’s that they’re all human, with blood in their veins,
And air in their lungs, and thoughts in their brains.
It’s hard enough really to know who you are,
To try to judge others is harder by far.
May we soon see the day when marriage is for everyone, and anyone can be emotionally, physically, and legally with the person they love.