Just minutes after the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals lifted its stay on same-gender marriages in California on Friday, hundreds braved a blistering sun outside the Long Beach Convention Center to cheer the justice leadership of the United Church of Christ and the validation of General Synod 2005's vote to affirm marriage equality.
Just two days after the U.S. Supreme Court allowed California's Proposition 8 — the ban on same-gender marriages passed in 2008 — to die, the Rally for Marriage Equality had already promised to be a pivotal moment of General Synod 2013. The lifting of the stay proved to be a stroke of divine event-planning.
But the message of each of the speakers was nearly identical to that of Bishop Yvette Flunder, pastor of the City of Refuge UCC in San Francisco: "Let's dance! For tomorrow we go to work!"
"We now see a time when we ALL will have marriage equality in our grasp," General Minister and President the Rev. Geoffrey Black told the group. "This is just one step in the march toward equality for all. Savor this moment — and then back to the struggle."
The Rev. Jane Heckels of California Faith for Equality reminded the group, "We have much more work to do, and not just for marriage equality, but for racial justice, undocumented workers, women's rights, workers' rights. We are not just people who want to get married."
"I didn't eat a grape until I was well into my teen-age years," said the Rev. Rebecca Voelkel of the National Gay and Lesbian Task Force of the UCC as she catalogued the justice battles she had been a part of. "But today I am weeping as I witness our 6-year-old daughter's joy that her country has recognized her family. Thanks be to God for the sheer power of witnessing the fruits of our labors."
The Rev. Mike Scheunemeyer, executive minister for Health and Wholeness Advocacy, honored the UCC's "bold voice for justice" and joined the call for "still more work to do."
But the Rev. Ben Guess, executive minister of Local Church Ministries, sealed the sanguine mood of the afternoon in closing when he celebrated the brief life of AIDS activist and songwriter Michael Callen by singing "Everything's Possible."
If the rally needed a theme, that was it.
Later Friday evening, during Plenary, the entire gathering celebrated the UCC affirmation of marriage equality with a video, 'It’s Just Love,' which traced the passage of the successful Marriage Equality resolution at General Synod 2005 in Atlanta. Black followed by offering a blessing and a prayer to extend marriage equality to all those who seek it.