A week after Obergefell vs Hodges, and I think I am still breathing

A reflection by Lindsey

Hello readers. My apologies for what seems like radio silence. When I am overwhelmed, my instincts are to hide, curl into a ball, and hope things resolve themselves quickly. Sarah and I were already awaiting Sarah’s surgery date with considerable anticipation. We’re accustomed to smiling, staying strong, and doing our best in the face of stressful situations. By God’s grace, we’ve managed to keep our feet and our sense of humor through it all. It hasn’t been easy, and there are times where it has definitely been hard.

The past week has been arguably one of the hardest to navigate in the three years that we have known each other. The only other week that even comes close was when I suddenly and unexpectedly lost my job two days after Christmas 2013. However, after I lost my job, I experienced my friends and my family rallying around me and Sarah to help us strategize and regroup. Having a supportive community makes a world of difference when you are trying to remind yourself, “Everything is going to be okay. Breathe. Everything will work out. Breathe. You still have options. Breathe. There is a way forward. Breathe. You can do it. Breathe.”

This past week has brought a flurry of official pronouncements. I have been drawn, seemingly like a moth to a light, to reading every statement that is likely to provide some insight as to how clergy within my Christian tradition see the question of pastoring LGBT people in the aftermath of last week’s decision. It is simply remarkable how many statements fail to consider the question, “What should we say to congregants who are LGBT who desire to live their lives in harmony with this Christian tradition’s teachings?” I have lost count of the number of LGBT Christian friends who have approached me to parse the implications of their churches’ reaction to Friday’s ruling. Many statements contain directives that all people who enter into civil same-sex marriages ought to come under church discipline without any hint of an exception.

Did I mention that in ten days I will be keeping vigil in a hospital’s waiting room as Sarah undergoes surgery?

If you were to ask me to name my top fear, I would tell you that I am most afraid of Sarah losing health care access. Currently, Sarah’s health care access rests entirely on my employer extending coverage to domestic partners. We first opened the conversation about protecting ourselves legally over 20 months ago. We’ve been encouraged to grant one another durable power of attorney and write our wills naming each other as beneficiaries. It’s hard to believe that a document one can create using free internet templates would be the answer to our legal worries. If it were truly that easy for the two of us to protect ourselves legally, please tell me why I have never seen a conservative Christian discussing how granting durable power of attorney and keeping one’s will up to date provides adequate legal redress. Additionally, I cannot escape the observation that accessing health insurance in the United States seems to be contingent on where you work and to whom you are married even after the passage of the Affordable Care Act. We are terrified that Friday’s decision will mark the eventual end of domestic partner benefits, a fear that appears to have merit. One analysis suggests that unmarried partners comprise over 7 million American households. That analysis helps me feel just a bit less alone.

When I’ve shared my fears and anxieties with friends over the past week, I’ve encountered a range of reactions. The vast majority of people ask me why we haven’t already entered into a civil marriage. A handful of people suggest that no one would ever have to know if we contracted a civil marriage for legal purposes and certainly leaders in our tradition couldn’t possibly be thinking about someone in my situation when they authored their public statements. Some people shrug off my concern by reminding me that being a Christian is costly and that I’m not being asked to do anything unreasonable.

I have lost track of the number of times I’ve wanted to throw something in the past week.

Like Sarah, I can rejoice with my friends who have been rejoicing that they no longer need to worry about whether they will have their relationships legally recognized. I know couples who have made legal arrangements in upwards of four states in an attempt to care for each other. I had heard numerous personal stories of people driving around with every legal document imaginable in their glove compartments in an effort to ensure hospital visitation rights. Trying to sort my own affairs relative to my relationship with Sarah gives me deep and profound empathy for every LGBT person who has asked the question, “If and when the time comes, will this legal document carry any weight?” In the past week, at least 3 friends have posted pictures of their freshly procured marriage licenses online complete with extended discussions of why they are so glad they finally can access these pieces of paper in their home states. For them, this is the document that legally permits them to care for one another and alleviates any anxiety. I can only imagine what that feeling must feel like. I know I would be rejoicing if Sarah and I managed to figure out what we needed to do in order to ensure that we could care for each other even if calamity hits.

But, that rejoicing does not negate the fact that both Sarah and I have spent the better part of two years discerning what a celibate partnership looks like for us. We have done our best to live our lives as transparently as possible with our priests while also devoting considerable energy towards writing about celibacy and being LGBT in the Church. I’ve personally spent over ten years asking Christ to illumine my own vocation, striving to cultivate compassion and grace for every person I’ve met along the way. I earnestly believed that others were trying to do the same. Unfortunately, in the past week, it seems like any compassion or grace that others might have previously shown me as evaporated. Where is the compassion when conservative straight Christian friends tell me that it’s entirely reasonable for bishops to tell me that I must choose between sacramental care in my Christian tradition and doing what I can do to ensure that Sarah has continuing health care coverage? Where is the grace when my newly legally married friends accuse me of willfully neglecting Sarah to appease the homophobic whims of a man wearing a funny hat? Even more importantly, where do I find the way of Christ as I try to live faithfully within a vocation that has proved to be abundantly life-giving?

There are no easy answers here. In my ideal world, we would figure out a way to divorce health care access from one’s employment and marital status. Everyone would be able to see doctors and get the care they need. Given that historically Christians built an incredible number of hospitals, I’m surprised that churches haven’t been more active in creating systems for health insurance. If employers can offer health insurance policies covering their employees, why haven’t churches explored options to create health insurance for their congregants? Additionally in my ideal world, we would be able to recognize diverse structures of adult relationships. Your ability to give and receive care from another adult would not depend on your familial or marital status. I do not think it’s necessary to use civil marriage as a catchall category for all caregiving relationships between two adults if the two people are not related through family of origin.

I know we don’t live in my ideal world. In my ideal world, Sarah would not be needing to have surgery in ten days either. I’m an engineer, and brainstorming crazy out-of-the-box ideas is one way I cope with uncertainty. A week after the decision in Obergefell vs Hodges, I feel more uncertain than ever. I think I’m still breathing, hoping, and praying that Sarah and I will find our way through the legal quagmire…. I think.

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8 thoughts on “A week after Obergefell vs Hodges, and I think I am still breathing

  1. I’m so sorry to see you two are struggling with such hardship right now, and that the Oberfell decision has been a source of so much stress and worry. I’ll be praying for God to see you safely through all this, but if there’s anything else I can do to help please don’t be shy about asking.

  2. Prayers and blessings for you both as you work this out. Trust in God, love each other, and do whatever is necessary to give affect to that love.

    Good things are and will come out of your witness and your suffering, which is part of the suffering and witness of Christ.

    God bless

  3. Thank you, Lindsey, for this post and the previous one. So grateful for your deep discernment about what celibate partnership looks like between you and Sarah. Praying for the peace of Christ as you navigate celibate partnership post-Obergefell. You are in this extraordinary place between conservatives and progressives. You’ve chosen that in deep discernment. Your friendship is amazing and a witness of God’s goodness in drawing the both of you into a particular shared history that is grounded in profound love.

  4. Both of you have mentioned that you are patterning your life together after a Skete, or very small religious community. There are ways that people within that community can access each other in health crises. Have you ever thought about working with your spiritual director(s) to become recognized as such? It probably won’t fix the insurance issue, but it would take care of the other access issues. Just a thought. Know that I’m praying for both of you, and any others who are in this situation.

  5. Sarah and Lindsey, my prayers for both of you as Sarah undergoes surgery, and as you continue to work out how to live your lives faithfully in the way God is calling you to in these new circumstances.

  6. I’m praying for both of you and, though I know it can be hard to ask for help, if you do run into financial issues with Sarah’s healthcare, please let us know. I’m sure many of us in this online community would be more than happy to help.

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