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Est. April 5, 2002
February 11, 2016 - Issue 640

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The Love That Now
Speaks Its Name

"We were told by religious conservatives if the
U.S. legalized such an ungodly act as same-sex
marriage not only would it  bring out the death
the institution of marriage but it would also 
bring about the demise of civilization."

Valentine’s Day is for lovers - including LGBTQ Americans.

Until last June’s historic Supreme Court ruling — Obergefell v. Hodge — that legalized same-sex marriage in all 50 states “the love that dare not speak its name,” which publicly outed Oscar Wilde at his “gross indecency trial” (Regina v. Wilde) in 1895, is finally and forever out of the closet.

We were told by religious conservatives if the U.S. legalized such an ungodly act as same-sex marriage not only would it bring out the death the institution of marriage but it would also bring about the demise of civilization. Many also said the righteous hand of God would be in that  defining moment  to stop same-sex marriage with ugly protests, with town clerks-like Kim Davis—the now infamous Kentucky County clerk who not only refused to issue marriage licenses to same-sex couple but she also forbade her co-workers to do so, too - engaging in civil disobedience by refusing to issue licenses, and with just those last minute unavoidable and inexplicable legal snafus.

But last year’s ruling never stopped us from publicly revealing our affection for one another.

For example, during the repressive 1950’s McCarthy era Gladys Bentley (1907 -1960)- a talented pianist and blues singer, and one of the most notorious and successful African American lesbians in the U. S. during the Harlem Renaissance - sang raunchy and salacious lyrics to popular tunes.  Bentley not only openly sang about heterosexual and homosexual sex but she also lived and celebrated openly her sexual  orientation as an out lesbian.  Known to perform in her infamous white tuxedo and top hat, Bentley’s gender-bending would label her by today’s term as a transgendered lesbian commonly known in lesbian parlance  a “Butch.”

As troubling as that was especially given her public lesbianism, Bentley’s most disturbing  behavior was her active participation in this country’s racial and gender obsession: interracial marriage. 

Had her “woman-friend” been  African American or another woman of color their coupling would have clearly been  subjected to condemnation and jeering, but it would not  have conjured up the wrath, fear and disgust that interracial marriage does. And with anti-miscegenation laws operating in all 50 states until 1967 when the U.S. Supreme court ruled in the  historic case, Loving vs. Virginia, stating that  anti-miscegenation laws were unconstitutional,  and with same-sex marriage not granted in all 50 states  until June 2015, Bentley single-handedly  performed a coup d’etat against the institution of marriage and the prohibition against miscegenation: she married her white girlfriend in a civil wedding ceremony.

The precedent  for same-sex marriage was set by an African American woman named Mildred Loving (1942-2008 ).Mildred Loving gained notoriety when the U.S. Supreme Court decided in her favor. Married to a white man,  Mildred Loving and her husband were indicted by a Virginia grand jury in October 1958  for violating the state’s “Racial Integrity Act of 1924.” But the laws of Virginia didn’t stop their love for each other.

When asked by the prosecuting attorney “What is “the Love that dare not speak its name?” Wilde stated the following:

"It is that deep spiritual affection that is as pure as it is perfect. It dictates and pervades great works of art, like those of Shakespeare and Michelangelo…. It is beautiful, it is fine, it is the noblest form of affection. There is nothing unnatural about it… the world does not understand. The world mocks at it, and sometimes puts one in the pillory for it.”

History, however, has shown us that people will fight for love’s integrity, even when it is against popular opinion, violating both state and federal laws, and  possibly causing them their lives.

Case in point: the beheading of St. Valentine in Rome in 270 A.D.
When Emperor Claudius II issued an edict abolishing marriage because married men hated to leave their families for battle, Valentine, known then as the “friend to lovers,” secretly joined them in holy matrimony. While awaiting his execution, Valentine fell in love with the jailer’s daughter and in his farewell message to his lover, he penned “From your Valentine!”

May the “Loving -spirit” of Mildred  and Oscar Wilde and the justice acts of St. Valentine and Obergefell v. Hodge be with us on this day.

Happy Valentine’s Day! Editorial Board member and Columnist, The Rev. Irene Monroe, is a religion columnist, theologian, and public speaker. She is the Coordinator of the African-American Roundtable of the Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) at the Pacific School of Religion. A native of Brooklyn, Rev. Monroe is a graduate from Wellesley College and Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University, and served as a pastor at an African-American church before coming to Harvard Divinity School for her doctorate as a Ford Fellow. She was recently named to MSNBC’s list of 10 Black Women You Should Know. Reverend Monroe is the author of Let Your Light Shine Like a Rainbow Always: Meditations on Bible Prayers for Not’So’Everyday Moments. As an African-American feminist theologian, she speaks for a sector of society that is frequently invisible. Her website is  Contact the Rev. Monroe and BC. 

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