On the Friday of our legal wedding, my now wife Julia and I woke early to visit and honor the newly erected Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial before we picked up our marriage license from the courthouse. That night, we gathered in the basement of the Health Care for America Now office building on K Street – with close family, a few friends, a judge, and building gym goers who stopped to peer into our unusual ritual. Our legal wedding was a hopeful moment among a series of hopeful moments that eventually led to legalization of marriage for same-sex couples across the United States.
This past Monday, I retraced my steps from the MLK, Jr. Memorial to just two blocks past the D.C. courthouse where we had picked up our marriage license. This time, I walked with nearly 3,000 ministers from all over the United States and from differing and rich cultural and religious backgrounds. The (misnumbered) 1,000 Minister March for Justice marked the 54th anniversary of King’s “March on Washington,” when he delivered the now famous “I have a dream” speech. That speech marked the 8 year anniversary of the brutal murder of 14-year-old Emmett Till.The journey was familiar. Same streets. Similar steps. Same moral pursuit of rights and equity. Different moment.
5 years ago, when Julia and I were married, there was a sense of hope that things we’re improving – that though it moved slowly, the arc of the moral universe was bending towards justice. Now, for me, for the ministers with whom I marched, and for many of us, that hope is sometimes hard to access. When white supremacy is openly endorsed not only in our streets, but in our White House, when life-giving healthcare access is threatened and saved by only 3 morally minded Senators, when mass incarceration is destroying whole neighborhoods and generations of black and brown people, how do we possibly hope?
We hope by looking to the resilience of those who became before and by looking to one another. 54 years earlier King preached: “I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream.” With the memory of Emmett Till hanging over the crowd, King said “I still have a dream.” So we ministers gathered, and we looked to one another, and we chose to dream – not a distant and metaphoric dream, but a personal dream.
It is personal to dream of a world without Nazis, and the alt-right, and white Christian-rooted nationalists. It is personal to dream of a world in which our colors or shapes of our bodies are held by one another as treasures and joys. Just as it was personal to dream that one day, Julia and I could be married and that our marriage would be recognized by the whole United States.
At the MLK, Jr. monument, Dr. King’s figure emerges from the stone. “Out of the mountain of despair, a stone of hope,” he preached in 1963. Just as despair and discrimination cycle through the generations, so too does hope, so too do dreams. And in this moment, in this critical time, when we really need hope, we look to those who dreamt before us, and to those who dream with us now.
– Rabbi Kerry