The Day the World Didn’t Stand Still

On Friday, June 26, 2015, around 11:00 AM, I was studying in the Bowdoin College library when I got an alert on my phone: Supreme Court Legalizes Gay Marriage. I did a double-take, then quickly opened the article and read what details were available. This was it. As far as the US was officially concerned, the culture war was over. All the lawsuits and constitutional wrangles were finally taken care of, decided and dismissed. I remember thinking — this is the sort of day you remember where you were when you heard the news.

Or maybe not.

No crowds of cheering students ran by the library windows; I didn’t see the workers renovating the library basement take a moment of silence to ponder the news. Facebook erupted, I’m sure, but that happens on at least a weekly basis, I’m told. After a minute, I went back to studying. The world kept going. America breathed another day.

That night, I went back to Bowdoin College for Maine State Music Theater’s production of Sister Act. It’s the same basic story as the movie: A disco singer (Deloris Van Cartier) joins a convent to escape her murderous boyfriend, breaks a few rules, rejuvenates the church choir, and finds a community she’d never dreamed of before. The musical throws in a rockin’ playlist, some truly hilarious MSMT acting (kudos especially to Nik Alexander as TJ), and a whole lotta message.

At the end of the show, Deloris raves to Mother Superior about how the choir came to life around her new music. “Maybe someday you’ll realize that’s God,” the abbess snips. “Maybe someday you’ll realize that’s being human!” Delores retorts. The Mother Superior sighs. “Maybe someday we’ll realize it is both, and they are both the same.”

And then we’re off into the final number, “Spread the Love Around”: “All things being even, / Here’s what I believe in — / Nothing matters more than love,” sings the Mother Superior.

Start a conversation,
throw a celebration,
let whatever’s in you out!
Welcoming and sharing,
simply caring
that’s what life is about.

It occurred to me that perhaps Sister Act is the reason why Friday, June 26, 2015, wasn’t the earth-shattering moment I initially thought it was. To be clear, I’m not accusing the justices of the US Supreme Court of unlawful conspiracy with the Maine State Music Theater. Rather, the SCOTUS decision is important because it’s the capstone of a longtime cultural attitude that I think Sister Act demonstrates.

If being God and being human are more or less the same thing, as Mother Superior said, then everything we humans do and everything we humans feel is fantastic and praiseworthy. If everything we humans think and do is great, then loving each other means supporting and affirming each other in whatever we do. If that’s the case, then stopping each other from acting out on our deepest feelings is, effectively, preventing our neighbors from living well — and when the state does this, the 14th Amendment has some hard words for it. Although I doubt many people would tell you that God and man are the same thing, I think the basic idea is still pretty common: human beings are the source of value, and no one person should prevent another from expressing his own meaning.

Of course, many people (including myself) find that idea questionable. But I think it’s one of the most prevalent ideas in America, and all the SCOTUS decision did was to reinforce an important part of this idea. And now that the Supreme Court of the United States has helped affirm that each human is the ultimate standard of his or her own good life, it’s going to be more difficult to make the case that, well, we aren’t.

My greatest fear about this decision is that all us Americans who aren’t convinced that sexuality is a wide-open field will automatically be labeled hatemongers and bigots. And the difficult thing is that I understand why people would think we are. Sometimes, in fact, I wonder why we aren’t. What gives me the right to tell someone else that what seems to make them happy isn’t okay? Why don’t we just join in with the Sister Act ensemble, affirming everybody and everything? Wouldn’t that be the nicest thing to do?The only answer I can come up with is that the world doesn’t actually work that way. And so loving others means something different.

You may disagree with me — in fact, you probably do — but I hope you recognize that I can disagree with you without hating you. I’ll do my best to extend the same grace to you. And I call all the rest of my friends who agree with me on this issue: don’t give others a reason to call us bigots. Keep on loving your neighbor even if your motives are misinterpreted. May we all learn to disagree with each other with charity, not caricature.

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