On Valentine’s Day we celebrate the precious gift of love. In our commercial age we are urged celebrate romantic love by buying flowers, candy, restaurant meals and weekend getaways. I, too, will celebrate with Phyllis, my bride of 42 years. Her love has been a blessing and gift since we were teenagers in college together.
Yet as a religious leader I am called to remember that love is much more than romantic love. Every religious tradition teaches us that love is sacred. Every major faith teaches us that every person is precious, that we are connected to one another and that we are to have compassion for everyone. The Christian scriptures teach that God is love.
To be a person of faith is to stand on the side of love. We are especially called to love those who are despised, powerless and marginalized. This sacred love is not just an emotion. Love acts. Love cares for those in need. Love demands that we take a stand. Love requires us to stand with those whom others reject and vilify.
Sadly, many people, driven by fear and ignorance and inflamed by demagogues in the media, reject the call to love. They stand for discrimination, scapegoating, marginalization and dehumanization. They turn some classes of people into the “other.” Our culture has a long history of addiction to vilifying those seen as different: Jews, Muslims, African Americans, Japanese, Mexican Americans.
Today two groups especially bear the brunt of rejection: sexual minorities and undocumented immigrants. Standing on the side of love means standing at their side.Just look at the ugly battle over legalization of the marriage of gays and lesbians and our inability to reform a hopelessly outdated and dysfunctional immigration laws.
I, who grew up when Francisco Franco’s fascist government ruled Spain, never thought I would live to see the day when marriage equality was legal in Spain but not in most of the United States. How is it that here in the United States, where we pride ourselves on being the beacon of freedom and human rights to the world, should lag behind a country that emerged from fascism just a few decades ago?
I personally know dozens of gay and lesbian couples who love one another deeply and who have been together for decades. Why do we persist in denying such people the same basic civil rights that my wife Phyllis and I share? My very straight family is not threatened when gays and lesbians marry.
On the matter of immigration, our inability to reform our outdated laws is creating millions of human tragedies. A few weeks ago, visiting San Antonio, I heard the story of Benita. She is a 25 year-old young woman facing deportation to Mexico. Benita was brought to this country as a young child. She has no memory of Mexico and knows no one there. She was valedictorian of her high school class and graduated from college with a double major. Our laws say we should send her “home to Mexico.” Mexico is not her home; America is her home. There are hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, like her. To throw her out of the country and send her to a place she has never been is madness.
This Valentine’s Day has been proclaimed Standing on the Side of Love Day. People of many faiths across America are worshipping, meeting, and taking action to stand with those who most need our love and compassion today. We are calling on our fellow citizens and elected officials at all levels to stand on the side of love as well.
This Valentine’s Day, as we cherish those closest to us and as we celebrate the divine gift of love, let us dare to embrace a larger love. Join with thousands across America who are standing on the side of love for all people.