I have vivid memories of January 22, 1973: the day that the Supreme Court overturned the ban on abortions in the U.S. I was at the student center when I heard. A cheer went up when it was announced. The days of having to arrange rides for women to New York City for abortions were about to be over; the days of women dropping out of high school and college to have babies they were ill equipped to raise were over. We thought this right was secured forever.
The first time I marched for women’s rights was in 1976: I wore a long white dress with a purple and yellow sash, modeled after the Suffragettes. I was 22. I’ve lost track of the number of other times I’ve marched or spoken at rallies in DC—twenty-eight times just since January 2016. My family, including our four-year-old daughter, marched for access to abortion in 1989; I was 35. We marched again in 2003 and I was a speaker at a worship service on the back steps of the Capitol; I was 49. In 2016, I spoke at a rally at the Supreme Court as it heard a case about abortion clinics. I’ll be marching again this week. I can’t help but think of this sign that I saw at the Women’s March in 2020: “I can’t believe I’m still protesting this @#$%!”
I was 19 when Roe was decided and 62 when marriage equality became the law of the land. I thought we were done securing sexual rights.
We aren’t done. The last administration worked mightily to roll back sexual rights even as the President boasted on national tv about his sexual conquests. Last year eight states enacted bills against transgender people limiting their rights to sports, bathrooms, and even medical care and more are under consideration. Texas enacted a law banning all abortions at six weeks–and in June 2022, the Supreme Court overturned the 50-year Roe decision. Abortion became illegal in at least fourteen states within two weeks of that decision.
Abortion and LGBTQ+ rights are intertwined. The Supreme Court cases that gave gay people the right to have sex (yes, that was decided in 2003) and the right to marry are based on Roe’s affirmation of a constitutional right to privacy. It’s more than just legal—both are fundamentally about the right to be able to live an adult sexual intimate life without governmental interference. Every adult’s sexual rights—the right to marry who we choose, the right to pleasure, the right to bodily autonomy—are endangered if anyone’s rights to a consensual adult relationship are imperiled.
For more than five decades, people from every religion have supported the right of individuals to make their own moral decisions. More than a dozen major religious denominations passed policies—some as many as fifty years ago—supporting access to legal abortion. In the 1960’s, clergy opened one of the first abortion clinics in the U.S. and fought for the repeal of abortion laws. As you know, UU’s were in the vanguard of promoting women’s and LGBTQ+ rights. We will be again.
We must help people understand that the sin is NEVER sex and sexuality. The sin is sexual violence, harassment, abuse, and misconduct. The sin is not homosexuality, but heterosexism, not transgender people but transphobia. The sin is forcing a pregnant person to carry a pregnancy and give birth against their will. The sin is to deny anyone the gift of their sexual and gender identity or the information, services, and rights they need to make responsible decisions.
Sexuality in all its stunning diversity is part of our birthright. The Talmud says, “in the world to come, we will be held accountable for all the good things we refused to enjoy.” That includes sexuality. May each of us—and our children and our grandchildren and theirs—celebrate our sexuality with holiness and integrity.