By Ken Trainor
This column first ran last Nov. 13 after the Illinois state legislature voted to legalize same-sex marriage. I'm reprinting it now to coincide with our Pride section, which you'll find elsewhere in this week's issue. This column also recently won second place in the Best Column category of the Illinois Press Association contest. It has been updated to reflect the June 1 implementation of the law.
The new law that went into effect, June 1, legalizing same-sex marriage was a victory for gay rights.
But it was also a victory for love.
The law acknowledges that the love between two men or two women is of equal value to the love between a woman and a man.
Too often in our effort to set societal guidelines and expectations, we overlook love, which belongs to the realm of the heart, whereas we tend to legislate with our heads. Often we fail to reconcile the two realms, which helps explain the inadequacy of our efforts.
For too long, we tried to define marriage strictly as a union between one man and one woman. But that is based on a deeper assumption — that love is only legitimate, maybe only possible, between a man and a woman, that only sex is possible between two men or two women.
If anything, love between two men or two women was considered a "lesser" love, a false love, not the kind that could be sanctified in the eyes of God or justified by his believers on Earth.
That's an almighty big assumption, based largely on one or two passages in the Old Testament of the Bible, written well over 2,000 years ago. Illinois — and 14 other states previously (with many more to come) — is saying that's a bad assumption because it claims to be able to judge the "quality" of the love between two consenting adults.
We cannot make that assumption. We must not make that assumption.
Legislation isn't the only place where love gets overlooked. The Catholic Church's opposition to contraception, for instance, is based on the assumption that the primary purpose of sex is procreation. Preventing conception has long been held by the Church hierarchy to be "unnatural" and therefore sinful — though not by most Catholics, who use and approve of contraception.
The Church's obsolete theology in this matter comes from the head and overlooks the heart. The primary purpose of sex is neither procreation nor pleasure — it is a profound, physical expression of love between two adults. Procreation, if desired, planned for and freely chosen, can be a wonderful consequence of that love. (The same is true if achieved through adoption or in vitro fertilization.)
When we create theology or legislation without considering love, our laws and doctrine are inevitably flawed.
Nowhere is this more evident than the Catholic creed, of which there are two versions, one recently revised. These list the bedrock beliefs of the faith. Yet somehow, after 2,000 years, the word "love" appears in neither version.
Compare that to the Unitarian/Universalist "Covenant," recited at the beginning of every service at Unity Temple:
"Love is the doctrine of this congregation …"
The first word of the first line — and they don't even identify themselves as Christian.
Which is doubly ironic because the very core of Christianity is love.
Jesus said, "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matthew 22:37-40).
He also said, "Love your enemies." (Matthew 5:44).
How can a religion based on love not mention "love" in its very creed? If Jesus didn't overlook love, why, so often, do his followers?
Well, Illinois, as of June 1, does not. Good for us. The vote last November was not just a victory for the LGBT community. It was not just a victory for Oak Park as a whole, which has welcomed that community and rooted for them. It was not just a victory for equal treatment under the law.
All of that is worth celebrating. But more than that, it is a victory for love — and a reminder that love needs to be the doctrine of all our congregations and the center of all our deliberations.
When some people oppose health care for millions through the Affordable Care Act, without offering any viable alternative or even defending the status quo, they have left love out of the equation. When they support widening economic inequality and deep cuts to programs that aid the poor, they have left love out. When they oppose environmental protections aimed at preventing the destruction of our planet, they have eliminated love from their reckoning altogether.
Love is at the very center of our progress as a people, raising the quality of life for all, committing ourselves to the common good. If we overlook love, we harm ourselves and others.
Love won a big victory June 1. We took another step forward. The journey ahead is long, but as an old CTA ad put it, in the long run, the long run is all that matters.
The length of our journey shouldn't discourage us — not if we keep one notion firmly fixed in our minds and our hearts:
Love really does conquer all.