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Changing Laws Doesn’t Always Open Hearts

The Supreme Court’s decision in Obergefell v. Hodges, which grants same-sex couples in all 50 states the ability to legally marry, is good news for America.

The Supreme Court ruling is, in part, based on the 14th Amendment adopted in 1869, which granted equal protection under the law to newly-freed African-Americans.

As a faith leader and a married woman who is lesbian, I celebrate the beginning of the end of a legal system of discrimination that denied lesbians and gays and our families the equal protection and security that marriage provides other couples and families.

Despite this progress, the June 17 massacre at Emmanuel AME Church in Charleston, SC painfully reminds us that changing laws doesn’t automatically open hearts. The unequal treatment of African-Americans and the violence of white supremacy persist nearly 150 years after the 14th Amendment’s adoption.

Our nation’s greatest hope for achieving equality and justice for all lies in changing hearts. Those who are committed to equality and justice must identify attitudes and behaviors that deter this vision, and challenge ourselves and others to fulfill it. How do we do that?

Answer—by listening, learning, and leading. We can ask LGBT friends to tell us what equality and justice would look like to them, and then listen to their answers. We can tell someone dear to us—particularly someone who doesn’t agree—why marriage equality matters to us. We can lead conversations about ways to concretely fulfill this vision in our homes and communities.

These conversations are not easy, but they are essential. Twenty years ago, my congregation, Eden United Church of Christ, engaged in a two-year conversation about whether to make a public commitment to welcome all persons, regardless of sexual orientation, as members and ministers. After much heart-felt discussion, the answer was “yes!” This year, as we celebrate our 150th anniversary, Eden Church is proud to also celebrate our 20th anniversary as an “Open and Affirming” (LGBT-inclusive) church.

The time to move the conversation and the arc of justice is now. Our work has just begun. Hate-crimes persist. Twenty-six states still do not provide legal protections in housing and employment for LGBT persons, and bullying continues to be a leading cause of youth suicide.

Equal protection is now a Constitutional right. Equal treatment requires that we listen, learn, and lead in ways that express the highest ideals of the gospel and American democracy.