Editor's Note: Joseph (Joe) Hahn is a research intern for the Bilerico Project, a full-time student at Western Oregon University, and the Vice President of WOU's LGBTQ student organization Triangle Alliance. He hopes to use his experience in the queer community to help LGBTQ youth through student affairs.
"I think all of us in the Christian community really want to honor each person as Christ honors each one of us. To make marriage legal in our state would affirm what we believe. That is what Christ calls us to do." ~Rev. W. J. Mark Knutson
This quote is one of many found in the Coming Out as a Person of Faith exhibit, a multi-media installation that tells the experiences, stories, and perspectives of clergy, parents of gay children, and LGBT couples of faith who support marriage equality.
The exhibit is sponsored by Oregon United for Marriage, a broad statewide coalition of individuals and organizations working to secure the freedom to marry. It is being shown at different places of worship and other locations throughout the state, including Portland's Q Center. People from all walks of life -- from Medford to Lincoln City, Methodist to evangelical, and couples to parents of LGBTQ people -- are showing their support for marriage equality through the exhibit.
The subjects' personal stories are truly inspiring. For example, Reverend Nathan Lerud and his partner James Joiner shared how they met and their commitment to each other. Sharon Messerschmidt recounts how her relationship with God helped her come to accept and embrace her relationship with her partner of 27 years, Jo Hamilton. Each story shows how people from different areas of faith have experienced LGBTQ culture.
The exhibit concludes with an 8-minute video showing images of and interviews with the participants. Macklemore's "Same Love" plays in the background while viewers see couples, parents of LGBTQ people, and allies sharing how faith is important to them and their marriages. Terry Milner and Rev. Gabriel Lamazares emphasize that "our faith has been as important to our relationship as our relationship has been to our faith."
The Coming Out as a Person of Faith exhibit is important because it highlights a group of people often forgotten in the search for LGBTQ rights. The intersectionality of queer and allied identities with faith identities shows that Oregon, and everyone else, truly is united for marriage.
How important is the faith community in the fight for marriage equality? Just ask Travis Van Horn, Political Coalition Building & Faith Organizing Intern at Oregon United for Marriage:
People of faith have a distinctly unique role to play in the fight for marriage equality: They have the opportunity to re-claim the values that are so often used against us by our opposition. When faith communities remain silent in the face of injustice, they allow figures within the religious right, such as Michele Bachmann and Pat Robinson, to claim the perception of their faith for them. Studies have shown that when people of faith have conversations about why they are called to support marriage equality because of their faith, the person they are talking to is twice as likely to vote for the freedom to marry. Even though Oregon is one of the least religious states, there is no doubt that the secular community looks to faith leaders' discussion on social issues. There are thousands of congregations throughout the United States who have chosen to publicly welcome people of all sexual orientations and gender identities; now it's up to them to live out their affirmation of welcome.
Check out the exhibit online, and if you are in Oregon and want to see the exhibit in person or host it, you can find more information here.