Tuesday, May 13, 2014

The South Will Rise: Marriage Equality in Arkansas

On Friday evening, as I attended the annual Episcopal Relief & Development Network meeting in the southern city of Atlanta Georgia, a friend of mine raced over to my table and told me what just came through his push notifications. "Arkansas judge strikes down Amendment 83 to the Arkansas state constitution and parallel state law known as 144 of 1997 which limits marriage to opposite sex couples."

I knew there would be a ruling last week and I knew the odds were pretty good that the judge would overturn the law but I still couldn’t wrap my head around the news when it actually happened. This is Arkansas, home of Mike Huckabee and his more conservative friends.

This is the last place in the country where I expected this to actually come to pass. I thought that when all was said and done, Arkansas would be one of the last holdouts in the race to marriage equality. We would certainly join the rest of the country dragging our feet, kicking, and screaming. Little did I imagine that Arkansas would be the leader from the south to forge the way forward. And so Friday evening two Arkansans (one by birth and me as an adopted daughter) raised a toast in the banquet hall of a hotel in the city of Atlanta.

It’s interesting, during my time in Atlanta last week I heard the burning of Atlanta referenced three times. The people in the south felt like their way of life was taken away from them, they felt they had lost everything that made them who they were. I’m sure it feels like that for many in the state of Arkansas today. And yet for others it is the very breath of life and freedom. Let us remember to pray for those who are hurting and yet celebrate with those who are able to be married today. May the joyous be shielded and the afflicted be comforted. One thing is for certain today: in this state, everyone is experiencing shock and cannot believe the things that have come to pass. We are united, if not by the outcome of this decision, by feeling the shock of it.

As I continue my own transition I know how important "firsts" can be. Last week I travelled to Atlanta for the first time since transitioning into the person God created me to be, Gwen. I am thankful for the Circuit Court in Pulaski County for giving me the opportunity to do something as simple as legally changing my name in April so that I could then get a new driver’s license with name and the appropriate gender. These simple legal changes that affect the lives of all transgender people allowed me to travel with reduced anxiety through the airports knowing that name and gender marker would not now flag me or automatically out me to the TSA agents at the airport security check points. These and other small legal acts are accessible to all in our society, everyone, and yet they are huge milestones for those of us who simply want to live out our lives with authenticity and integrity. That is what happened here in the state of Arkansas this weekend. The gate has not opened wide but it has been left ajar. Small baby steps now haltingly move us forward giving us confidence and hope as we all gain strength for the journeys we will take in the days to come.

In his ruling, Judge Piazza compared overturning Virginia’s ban on interracial marriage 40 years ago to our current struggle for marriage equality, "It has been over forty years since Mildred Loving was given the right to marry the person of her choice. The hatred and fears have long since vanished and she and her husband lived full lives together; so it will be for the same-sex couples. It is time to let that beacon of freedom shine brighter on all our brothers and sisters. We will be stronger for it."

The legal right to marry the one we love here in Arkansas is a huge milestone and today Arkansas is stronger for it.

The Reverend Gwen Fry is a priest in the Episcopal Diocese of Arkansas; she is the former Priest in Charge at Grace Episcopal Church, Pine Bluff and is now working as a Supply Priest throughout the diocese. She also serves as the Diocesan Coordinator for Episcopal Relief & Development.


1 comment:

Amy Flaherty said...

Great article. I'm actually proud of being an Arkansan this week and know that I can be an ally to the LGBT community and southern- I can be both. Bravery and heart do lead to positive things:)