What Holy Week Has to Do with DOMA
I think it would be nice to start the day with a story. A love story. It begins once upon a time in the West Village at a restaurant called Portofino. Edith Windsor was in her early 30’s, working at NYU in the ground-breaking computer programming industry. The year was 1963. Edith was about to embark on a promising career with IBM, but she knew something was missing in her life. So she asked her friend to take her “where the lesbians go”. She ended up at Portofino and was introduced to a young psychologist named Thea Spyer. Edith and Thea danced all night.
In 1967, Thea proposed to Edith with a diamond pin instead of a ring, so they wouldn’t draw unwanted attention. I would say they lived happily ever after, but, in every shared life, there are complications. Ten years later, Thea was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, and Edith ended up leaving her lucrative career to care for Thea. She learned how to get her beloved Thea in and out of bed and in and out of their Washington Square apartment.
After 40 years of love, sacrifice, struggle, and true joy, the doctors told the couple that Thea, who was by then a quadriplegic, only had one more year to live. Thea proposed to Edith again, and the couple traveled to Canada with three medical aids to finally take their vows of marriage. Edith sat on the arm of Thea’s wheelchair for the ceremony. They lived two years together as a lawfully married couple until Thea’s death in 2009. Edith had a heart attack a month after Thea died, and she was crushed to learn, as she tried to recover and mourn, that she was facing a federal estate tax bill of $363,000 for inheriting Thea’s assets, a bill that she would not owe if she were in a heterosexual marriage. The federal government was essentially treating her like she was a total stranger to a woman she had loved for 42 years and cared for as a devoted nurse for decades.
I want you to know this love story of Edith and Thea because their love has the potential to change the very definition of marriage in this country. This month, the Supreme Court will hear the case of Windsor vs. United States. Edith Windsor is challenging the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act, which defines marriage as between a man and a woman. If Edith wins, our nation could achieve marriage equality. The case will be argued before the court on Wednesday of Holy Week, and our church will join other faith communities at a rally in the West Village on the Tuesday of Holy Week, which is also the Jewish Passover.
This is exactly what I want to be doing on my Holy Tuesday, and let me tell you why. Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday, when Jesus comes into Jerusalem for the Passover festival riding on a donkey to the palm-waving crowds of admirers. The part of the story we don’t read on Palm Sunday is what happens right after.
12Then Jesus entered the temple and drove out all who were selling and buying in the temple, and he overturned the tables of the money changers and the seats of those who sold doves. 13He said to them, “It is written, ‘My house shall be called a house of prayer’; but you are making it a den of robbers.”
This story reminds us that Lent and Holy Week are not just a time to take stock of our individual lives and turn toward God. This is also a time to take stock of our life together—especially our religious institutional life—to prune that which is not healthy or helpful, to root out what is sinful, to return to God’s mission. Our religious institutions have been used to push the discriminatory laws that dishonor loving and committed relationships like that of Edith and Thea. Our religious institutions have been on the front lines of denying over one thousand rights to couples just because of their gender make-up. So, this Holy Week, I pray that we will follow in Christ’s footsteps to overturn what is wrong in our temples and work for the true and historic meaning of the Passover festival, which is liberation.
(This was originally shared as a devotion on one of Church of the Village’s Wednesday morning prayer calls. Join us any Wednesday morning at 7am for 20 minutes of devotion and prayer. Ph: (559)546-1200, Code: 533-689-191#)