As the only open and affirming church in Houston's northern suburbs, the Rev. Ginny Brown Daniel feels a sense of responsibility to the local LGBT community. Her congregation, Plymouth United Church UCC in Spring, Texas, and it's ONA committee are always looking for ways to express their support and acceptance, from participating in the Houston PRIDE parades, to co-hosting an annual LGBT prom. So Daniel is particularly excited about the congregation's upcoming mass marriage commitment ceremony to be celebrated Feb. 10 in conjunction with Freedom to Marry Week.
"This is a great opportunity for us to express our voice and share our support with our brothers and sisters in the suburbs of Houston that God loves all and that marriage, indeed, is for all," said Daniel.
Freedom to Marry Week is sponsored by Freedom to Marry, an organization that campaigns for marriage equality nationwide. Open to everyone both gay and straight, Plymouth's marriage commitment ceremony will comprise two parts. The first will invite all couples making a new commitment to each other to come forward, say their vows and exchange rings. The second part will allow longtime couples to formally renew their commitments to one another. Daniel will use the same readings and language from the UCC book of worship that she uses for all wedding and recommitment ceremonies, and she is expecting about 50-75 couples to participate.
"My role is not a legal role, so I believe what I offer as a minster for any weddings I perform is the spiritual substance," Daniel said. "This is a marriage whether the United States and the state of Texas choose to legally recognize it or not, but in the eyes of the UCC and God, it's a marriage."
While her congregation is enthusiastically on board with its open and affirming status, Daniel sometimes feels a sense of skepticism or doubt that what the church is doing is making a real impact. While 10 states in the U.S. have already approved same-sex marriage and a number of others are openly discussing it, Texas still has an anti-gay constitutional amendment, and many doubt the issue will be open for debate any time soon. But as Daniel watches the progress taking place throughout the country, she can't help but prepare her congregation for change that may come sooner than they think.
"In a number of sermons, I continue to say to the congregation that marriage equality is coming soon. Then I pause because there is this laughter because we live in the suburbs of Houston, Texas," Daniel said. "Their first thought is, ‘Ginny, you are crazy to think that we will be able to legally marry anyone anytime soon.' But I think it's coming sooner rather than later."
Daniel is not just prepared for marriage equality to come her way, but she is also prepared for her congregation to be a leader in the movement. When she heard that a couple from as far away as Illinois may attend the marriage commitment ceremony, she understood the significant need for safe and welcoming LGBT sanctuaries, and she will be happy to offer just that.
"We are going to have a huge responsibly not only for our church, but for the entire community of demonstrating how to embody marriage equality for those who are against it and afraid of what it means," Daniel said. "It's coming, and it's coming to Houston, Texas, and we need to have our ducks in a row and be leaders in the community, ready and willing to guide our neighbors."
The United Church of Christ has a long history of affirming and working for equal rights for LGBTQ persons. At its 2005 General Synod - the main deliberative body of the UCC - the denomination passed a resolution affirming equal marriage rights for all couples, regardless of gender.