Someday Janet, there will be room for us to live
Then we can spread our wings and fly.
Someday after the winds of change have blown across
The small-minded people, we'll love.
In twenty years, or so they say,
The world will see how blind it's been,
And then, my love, we'll fly away
To lands we've dreamed, but never seen.
And then, my love, we'll share the hope
We've had to hide from them 'til then.
I composed that song when I was 16 years old for my girlfriend. Her name was Janet Mercer. She was 15 years old. The year was 1972 and we lived in an annex of Keesler Air Force base housing in Biloxi, Mississippi. Janet had flaming red hair, lots of freckles, wonderful dimples, and two of the deepest brown eyes on the planet. She looked like a poster child for an advertisement to travel to Ireland. I don't look like that. We were a couple that couldn't have looked more different than each other. Yet, there we were, in love, in that place and at that time.
Two kids in their teens, having their first serious relationship, always confront the normal difficulties of awkwardness and angst. But added to that was a keen awareness Janet and I had that we needed to be careful. We knew that our love could be dangerous to us. We were quickly made aware that, in spite of our ease with each other, there existed outside our little enclave of government housing a society of many people who felt perfectly justified in demonstrating how much they hated seeing us together. Sometimes we were denied service at restaurants, sometimes we were accosted while walking on a road, and other times people would glare at us or make threatening gestures.
Of course, this kind of behavior was not constant. It was, however, an annoying feature of our relationship. Many people, especially our school peers, people who lived in the annex with us, or other Air Force folks were perfectly fine with us. We actually had a few well-meaning adults tell us that interracial dating leads to interracial marriage, and although they, themselves were ok with that, the larger society will make being together difficult in the future. We were admonished to think about how hard things will be for our children. We weren't quite ready for marriage at that time, but I suppose some considered it an act of kindness to warn us about the future we would face.
The song I wrote expresses both the hope I had for our relationship, and an adult-level realization of how serious the situations were that we sometimes found ourselves in. The words: "In twenty years, or so they say, the world will see how blind it's been." and "We'll share the hope we've had to hide from them 'til then" demonstrate how aware I was of how long it might be before our world was ready for us.
Was I being overly sensitive at the time? Were these the romantic ramblings of a kid who attached more importance to a relationship than was warranted? Bear in mind that anti-miscegenation laws (or laws against racial intermarriage) had not been declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court until 1967... just 5 years before Janet and I met each other. That notwithstanding, Alabama kept a state-level law on the books until as recently as the year 2000. It is not an exaggeration to say that even today, many multi-racial couples in the Deep South are still struggling to feel safe and be accepted in their communities.
On March 12, 2012 the Huffington Post ran a story entitled "Interracial Marriage: Many Deep South Republican Voters Believe Interracial Marriage Should be Illegal". The article revealed the shocking fact that the polling firm Public Policy Polling (PPP) revealed that 29 percent of likely GOP voters surveyed in Mississippi believe that interracial marriage should be illegal. The survey also found that 21 percent of likely GOP voters polled in Alabama believe that interracial marriage should be illegal.
Apparently, my timetable for total acceptance of multi-racial marriage was off by decades. One might say the solution to me and Janet's problem could have been to move to California (and live only in urban areas), or wait until we are in our fifties to have a decent chance of being together in present-day Mississippi.
On the other hand, and thankfully so, the Pew Research Center's recent report on racial attitudes in the U.S., finds that an overwhelming majority of Millennials, regardless of race, say they would be fine with a family member's marriage to someone of a different racial or ethnic group. Asked about particular groups to which they do not belong, Millennials are about equally accepting of marriage to someone in any of the groups tested. This high level of acceptance among Millennials holds true across ethnic and racial groups; there is no significant difference between white, black and Hispanic Millennials in the degree of acceptance of interracial marriage.
Compared with older groups, particularly Americans ages 50 or older, Millennials are significantly more likely to be accepting of interracial marriage. While 85% of Millennials say they would be fine with a marriage to someone from any of the groups asked about, that number drops to just 38% of those ages 65 and older.
Why all this talk of interracial marriage? Well. frankly, I have a lot of personal experience with that subject. But, there are equally important examples of how people do what I describe as stepping on love. In fact, this sermon was originally intended to be about how standing on the side of love leads to peace. While contemplating that subject I thought about the phrase, "no justice, no peace". That lead me to explore how love is the currency of both justice and peace. "Can there be circumstances where love can suffer from injustice?", I asked myself.
Most of think of love, especially erotic love, as a free exchange of affection between two human beings. We believe, especially in the western world, that people should be free to enter into relationships with each other, and eventually marry if they love one another. Let's test that hypothesis, shall we? It doesn't take much to stretch that thought to the point where some of us become uncomfortable.
People who love each other might be the same sex and want to express that love in a married relationship. Some people, for religious or moral reasons, may wish to participate in polygamous relationships or marriages. Others want to marry people much younger than themselves. Some will wish to marry people dangerously, or incestuously close to them in the gene pool. In some parts of the world, marrying outside of your class, or caste can be dangerous. I predict that at some time in the future, when extra-terrestrial aliens are living among us, some crazy human beings will want to marry some of them too!
Let's look at the issue of same sex marriage for a moment. According to the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, in 2001, Americans opposed same-sex marriage by a 57% to 35% margin. Today, there is slightly more support for same-sex marriage than opposition to it, with 48% in favor and 43% opposed.
Opponents of gay marriage use many of the same arguments as foes of interracial relationships did before Loving v. Virginia outlawed state bans on interracial marriage in 1967, said law professor Kim Forde-Mazrui at a talk sponsored by the Center for the Study of Race and Law on Sept. 30, 2004.
“If religious, scientific, moral opposition to interracial relationships — sex, marriage and adoption — were wrong, notwithstanding the sincerity and good faith of those who believed in the opposition, then are the same arguments any more justified when they are used to oppose same-sex relationships?” Forde-Mazrui asked. “It seems that the similarities at least shift the burden….We’ve tried this before. We’ve learned in hindsight this is wrong.”
It is true that opponents’ arguments against interracial relationships eerily mirror those of gay rights opponents. Like the arguments against gay marriage, “Much of the opposition to interracial relationships in the past was grounded in religious beliefs.” said Forde-Mazrui.
In Loving, Virginia’s Supreme Court justified a ban on interracial marriages by citing religious beliefs. Others argued against it on the grounds that it violated natural order and would lead to unhealthy children — perhaps mentally retarded or a “mongrel” breed.
Gay sex is also called unnatural, or regarded as bestial, by some today, and, importantly, the American Psychiatric Association considered homosexuality a psychological disorder until 1973. It is important to note that the relation to procreation is different in gay relationships; now the concern is more the lack of procreation because many consider marriage a foundation for having children.
According to Wikipedia, "Star-crossed" or "star-crossed lovers" is a phrase describing a pair of lovers whose relationship is often thwarted by outside forces. The term encompasses other meanings, but originally means the pairing is being "thwarted by a malign star" or that the stars are working against the relationship. Such pairings are often but not always said to be doomed from the start.
The concept of “star-crossed” love is synonymous with “forbidden love”. This is the kind of idealized, celebrated, cherished, and clandestine love that has been the titillating grist of heart wrenching stories since the beginning of time. Who can forget the passionate story of the “The King and I”? That musical and movie was based on the 1944 novel “Anna and the King of Siam” by Margaret Landon, which derives from the memoirs of Anna Leonowens, governess to the children of King Mongkut of Siam in the early 1860s. The musical's plot relates the experiences of Anna, a British schoolteacher hired as part of the King's drive to modernize his country. The relationship between the King and Anna is marked by conflict through much of the piece, as well as by a love that neither can admit. The emotional nexus of the story is summed up in just a few lines from the main theme song:
“Hello young lovers, whoever you are
I hope your troubles are few
All my good wishes go with you tonight
I've been in love like you
Be brave, young lovers and follow your star
Be brave and faithful and true
Cling very close to each other tonight
I've been in love like you”
Of course, the story of Romeo and Juliet, also belongs in the eternal pantheon of the tragic love story. It was written early in the career of William Shakespeare about two young star-crossed lovers whose deaths ultimately reconcile their feuding families. Today, the title characters are regarded as archetypal young lovers.
Here, in the United States, love of the star-crossed, or forbidden kind might meet with disapproval, or even, in more extreme cases, jail time. But, an American citizen can be fairly certain they will not be killed for loving someone they're not supposed to. Such is not the case in a surprising number of places in the world today.
According to campaigners, there are up to 10,000 “honor killings” in India every year. Honor killings refer to the murder of people who have supposedly committed some act deemed to be a violation of honor. Most of the victims are young women killed by their fathers and brothers over “forbidden” relationships or for insisting on marrying a man they love. Thousands of people are killed each year for falling in love or marrying against their families' wishes.
Many of those killed were in India's northern states where councils have issued stern warnings against men and women from the same sub-caste marrying each other. Caste elders regard the practice as akin to incest even though the individuals are not related.
In islamic countries such honor killings may include marrying someone regarded as unsuitable, sex before marriage, demanding a divorce, a woman (married or unmarried) being raped, or even things as mundane and innocent as calling a radio station to ask for a song to be played on air, or a girl seen talking to a boy.
The simple fact is that this modern notion of marrying for love can be dangerous on many levels in many societies. Yet, people all over the world often risk everything for the right to be with a person they love, no matter what the cost. Why is that? What is it that is so compelling and so fundamentally important about love that we human beings are sometimes willing to even sacrifice our lives at its altar? And, perhaps more importantly, why is it that many of us, even unconsciously, oppress others to defend our own beliefs about how and why they are supposed to express that love?
George Bernard Shaw described marriage as an institution that brings together two people "under the influence of the most violent, most insane, most delusive, and most transient of passions. They are required to swear that they will remain in that excited, abnormal, and exhausting condition continuously until death do them part." I like Shaw's perception of marriage, and by definition, everything that leads up to it. Still, it does not answer the essential questions of why we love each other in spite of the sometimes real danger of that love being stepped on if it exists outside someone else's proscribed boundaries.
To many of us, this seems like a silly issue. “Of course, I believe in the power and sanctity of love. I would never, nor have I ever, stood in the way of someone loving another person!”, most of us would say. Let me tell you a story about how I had to personally come to grips with how I stepped on someone else's love. This story demonstrates how easy it is to forget the importance of leaving love to its own path.
Some of you know there is a young woman in my life who I describe as my daughter. Her name is Keely. Keely just had a baby with a man I don't believe is going to be able to support her or their baby, given the present trajectory of their life paths. There are many other reasons, I won't go into, that have made me very concerned about their relationship. Before Keely had the baby, I made my feelings known to both her and the young man who is now the father of my virtual grandson. Even so, I have tried hard to support them, mostly because of my love for Keely. How many of you have been in this situation?
Well, let me tell you, I have had to plumb the depths of my conscience on this one! This situation presents a spiritual conundrum for me on many levels. I have had to ask myself if I am being hypocritical to expect others to honor my choices about who I love, yet reserve for myself a judgment about Keely's choices. I have had to look deep into the mirror of my own quest for acceptance and respect, and I was surprised at what I saw.
The conclusion I come to about this issue has been informed by my own struggle to understand how love has implicated me. My conclusion is that love is a precious gift. It is the spiritual food that sustains us and binds us, one to another. If we are truly all connected to each other, then we must honor love in all its guises.
If we cannot find it in ourselves to honor other people's love, then we must not... we cannot stand in its way. No one knows the path love will take. Love does not know barriers of time, space, or even consequences. Surely, each of us has buried in our heart a secret love for another person that could not, or must not, find its full expression. We must appeal to that fragile, vulnerable, and sacred place inside to guide us into an understanding of what love requires of us.
We cannot know the path that love must take to fulfill itself. It lies in a realm outside of us, and even of the people caught it in its exquisite grasp. We can only marvel at its many shapes and textures, and we are required to accept it, especially when a child is produced from its expression. We must trust in its mysterious wisdom. As UU's, we are invited to celebrate love in all its forms as the essence of what makes our lives worth living.
The young man that I once was... the romantic, the poet, the lover, and the dreamer... now asks you to join me in celebrating those sometimes small, seemingly insignificant victories over prejudice, hatred, bigotry, and over what I then described as “the small minded people”. Whether straight, gay, or somewhere in between, whatever color or race of person, whatever their religion or creed, and whatever their age... if love graces you, answer without question or hesitation. And if it infects someone else, be happy for them and stay the hell out of the way!
About this blog.
This blog is a place where many of the confluences of my life can be shared. I am, at the core, a creative person. I approach everything from that basis... whether composing symphonies, playing the cello, being a serial entrepreneur, writing sermons and essays, flying airplanes, or creating software apps. I am deeply passionate about creativity, issues of social justice, and spiritual enrichment. These are fundamental to everything I do. Welcome to my journey!