Reverend Bill Freeman into our classroom. Reverend Freeman married 58 same sex couples in Muskegon on Saturday March 23. He spoke with us intimately about last Saturday, about those couples whom he joined together, he talked of his calling to the ministry, his stay in jail, and his life’s work to fight non-violently for peace and justice. The setting and exchange was soft. Bill perched on a chair in front of the room. He didn’t preach about religion or politics. He shied away from no question. And he opened up his heart to all; a couple times it got a little emotional. He stayed overtime and talked with two classes. We all laughed a lot
On 9/11/2001 Bill Freeman made the decision to become Reverend Freeman. He thought about it a lot throughout his secular life. After the events of September 11 he turned toward a higher calling. On December 7 of that year he was finally baptized…and decided that was a sign – Pearl Harbor Day and the terror of 911 his mission would be always to work for peace and justice. His first sermon in seminary fell on April 1. He concluded that he should never take himself too seriously. We took him very seriously…and questions flowed.
As for the events of Saturday March 23, the only day in the history of this state when gay men and women could legally marry one another, he provided us a historical window. Muskegon was one of four counties statewide in which this occurred. County Clerk Nancy Waters called Bill on Friday night after the Federal District Court in Detroit struck down Michigan’s ban on same sex marriage. For one day – Saturday – love was just love. And anybody of either sex was free to take the vows.
All day long he married American citizens to American citizens. People came from Indiana and Battle Creek. One couple had waited 37 years. At the end they had to go in waves of six to beat the bell. Two couples were left in line when the 5:00 PM deadline came and went. Funny, he told us he had expected that when he provided each couple the opportunity to speak at their moment of union – he thought they might talk of rights under the Constitution, equal protection, or something along those lines. Nobody did. They gazed into their partner’s eyes and said how happy they were to spend their lives together. Just like any other heterosexual couple.
I am continually impressed by the depth of the character of Oakridge students. So many kids in that classroom that day, understood the gravity of the conversation, the historical and constitutional significance of the moment. When I was their age – we were exiting Vietnam – the draft was over – but I wasn’t far from it. I couldn’t have found Vietnam on a map of Southeast Asia. I didn’t care about nothing but me. These kids, these young adults are waking up. Anna, Michael, Nicole, Brock and Morgan, from they and more – probing caring questions flowed. The conversation was rich. To listen to both the visitor and hosts gave me confidence that these kids have the depth that it will take to shape their world in a better way than my generation has. They can at least find their Vietnams on a map.
This issue is a done deal. It’s as over as Rosa Park’s relegation to a back row seat on that Montgomery Bus in 1955. It’s just a matter of when the Supreme Court comes out of hiding. The 14th Amendment states, “nor shall any state deny any person life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” It’s over. Eighteen states already know it. There’s no way to spin it anymore.
I’m not generally an optimistic person. However I am continually impressed and energized by the accepting nature of young people today. If our society has a chance to move into the sunlight – it will be because the youth of this nation, of my school, are open minded and awakening to issues that matter. Most kids today don’t care about your color or your sex or your sexual orientation. No, check that…they do care. A lot! They care that their friends get equal protection under the law, regardless of who they are. And some of their friends, some of their folks, some of them even, like people of the opposite sex.
Today gives me pause to think, maybe maybe maybe we can turn this whole thing around. Maybe “We the People” will re-seize the tools of our institutions of democracy. Maybe public interest will continue, with these young kids, to move into other areas of awareness to shape a public policy that truly reflects the needs and wants and hopes and dreams of citizens of this once great democracy.
Thank you Reverend Freeman. Thank you Oakridge students. You are awake!