My friends, Dustin and Raymond, are in New York for a few days. They got their marriage license today and will be legally married (in the state of New York) tomorrow. I am vicariously celebrating them and remembering my own wedding in July 2004. This post is dedicated to them.
In 2004, Massachusetts was the only state where a gay couple could legally wed, and the "rules" had changed saying you had to be a resident of the state in order to be married there. Oregon had briefly legalized it, and California had not yet come and gone. Certainly, I celebrate the progress that has been made since 2004, and the number of states that now allow same sex couples to share in both the commitment and the legal benefits of being a married couple in the US. In 2004, though, Canada seemed to be the most stable option, and I even opined that foreign marriages might be recognized in the states sooner, and more broadly, than those of other states. So, we went that route.
Plans were soon underway to travel to Vancouver, BC, which is a beautiful and welcoming city, with absolutely lovely weather in the month of July (farewell midwest heat!). Because of the distance, we didn't presume that any of our friends or family would be able to attend. While we would have much preferred a small, local church affair, attended and witnessed by our friends and family, we resigned ourselves to a civil ceremony in a country where we are not citizens.
I alerted our hotel to our plans, asking if there was a small courtyard or public area where we could have our ceremony without being disruptive to other guests. I also offered to provide a gratuity to any two of the hotel staff who might be willing to serve as witnesses.
The hotel was more than gracious, providing an upgraded room for "honeymooners" with a view of the harbor, leaving champagne and chocolate covered strawberries with a congratulatory note in our room, and reserving a courtyard balcony for our ceremony that also overlooked the harbor, in addition to two staff to witness the ceremony.
Our only on-site task still to be accomplished was to obtain our marriage license. In Canada, these are typically procured at insurance agencies, and the one agency open on Saturday was in Chinatown - the Jack Chow Insurance Agency (across the street from the Sing Along Salon). We managed to locate Jack Chow, secure the license, and return to the hotel in time to change clothes and meet the Marriage Commissioner who would perform the wedding and our new hotel staff friends. The weather was beautiful, and the ceremony itself was meaningful, but would have been more so if we could have shared it with those in our close circle of family and friends.
Friends, marriage is a commitment. And it is a public statement of a commitment two people have already made in their hearts to one another. I don't think the ceremony "makes you married" any more than I think baptism "makes you a Christian." These are outward signs of a wonderful change that has already taken place in your heart. And the PUBLIC part of that is sharing the joy of it, putting it "out there" so that you will be accountable for that commitment. It is the "Amen" stamped on the act. An "Amen" that says between two people who love one another - "and I mean it!" And the "Amen" by those who witness it to say "and we will support you!" For my friends Dustin and Raymond, it also an "Amen" for the love they have for their son, Emmaus. An "Amen" that says to him, you are loved and part of a secure and stable family - and we mean it! Is there some reason why God would be against that? Why only "one man and one woman" can enjoy this kind of commitment and support?
I am so happy for Dustin and Raymond - they will be celebrating with some friends and family, even if it isn't locally; they will be able to have their wedding in a church, which reinforces their commitment to God as an important part of their family and bond with one another. How nice it would have been, though, if all of this could have happened in their home town, in their home church, with all of their friends and family.
Following are some of the lines from my and the Frau's wedding ceremony. Think how much more meaningful some of these words would have been for us if our witnesses had been our family and friends instead of hotel staff, and if our vows had been said before a minister in a church that reflected our faith and commitment to God. Our country is making progress, but we aren't there, yet. Until then, same sex couples will have to do all kinds of crazy things to celebrate and confirm their love.
We are gathered here today to witness and to celebrate the coming together of two separate lives; to celebrate the joining of Gayle Reece and Cynthia Sheppard in marriage, to be alongside them, and to rejoice with them, as they make this important commitment to one another. . . .
The marriage commitment is one of faith. Faith in one another is based on our commitment of loyalty and trust. In marriage, mutual faith requires of both partners openness of expression and thought, freedom from doubt and suspicion and a commitment to speak the truth in love.
The marriage commitment is one of hope. You must interpret each other's actions and words with understanding and compassion. You have a vision of what you can become together. Pursue that vision. Never let it die.
Finally, the marriage commitment is one of love in which both partners empty themselves of their own concerns and take upon themselves the concerns of each other.
It is into this high and serious estate that Gayle and Cindy desire to enter and be joined.
Cindy/Gayle, do you promise to unite your life with Gayle's/Cindy's life, to live together in the commitment of faith, hope and love; and do you promise to listen to her innermost thoughts, to be considerate and tender in your care of her, and stand by her faithfully, in sickness and in health, and leaving all others, to accept full responsibility for her every necessity until you are parted by death?
Gayle and Cindy, the vows through which you accept each other in marriage have no hidden power within themselves. Only to the extent that they express in words your continuing intention and commitment do they have meaning. In a world where the forces pushing people apart may often seem stronger than the forces drawing people together, your commitment to each other will need to be expressed and reconfirmed in many different ways in the coming days and years. The expression in today's vows is simply a visible milestone in your journey together.
Thanks, Dustin and Rayms, for prompting me to revisit my own commitment and vows. And I wish for you two, with Emmaus, a very happy journey to come. Love wins!