Thursday, November 26, 2015

Marriage Equality


November 26, 2015 

It is Thanksgiving morning. A cloudy sky and a cool breeze contribute to the ambience of this holiday that is set aside for gratitude. I look at the gold band on my ring finger and I am touched by how deeply that ring has affected me. The wedding ceremony, when Anna made promises and placed it on my finger, was so much more than what I had expected or imagined it would be. My gratitude for the right to marry and for the experience of being married is as shiny and precious as the gold of this ring.

We invited our friend, Dr. Mary Lin Hudson, to officiate our wedding. She teaches with me at the seminary. Having Mary Lin to stand before us allowed a mix of the authority of the state as well as the intimacy of our friendship. She shared a lovely homily, capturing the essence of who we are as individuals and as a couple. After sixteen years of living together, we have developed an identity as a successful couple. Our friends laughed with us as Mary Lin referred to us as “Martha and Mary,” one in the kitchen working while the other entertains guests in the living room.  

We exchanged vows and my emotions overwhelmed me, rendering my voice down to little more than a squeak. Anna shed tears as she spoke her vows. I sobbed. Upon reflection, I realize that speaking those vows, making promises for the rest of our lives, lifted up our mortality and highlighted our deep need for trust, truth and faithfulness. My great fear in life is abandonment. My life story has given me reason to believe that the best and most beloved relationships can be yanked away without a word of warning. And so I offered my vows, and with the words came sobs from my childhood, begging Anna to stay with me forever. The wedding gave me the opportunity to express those fears and simultaneously to have those fears relieved. This public, legal ceremony was full of grace.

The most challenging aspect of planning our wedding was the question of whom to invite. Weddings cost money and we could not afford to invite everybody. The caterer needed a head count and every head costs a dollar amount. We wanted to be generous and we wanted our guests to be wined, dined and comfortable. We chose Stonewall Hall as our venue because it is lovely and in our neighborhood. It is a big room but not big enough to hold every one of our friends and their families. So we had to make choices on our invitation list. It was not easy.

Our friends entered the door with bright smiles as they arrived on a bitterly cold day with mist in the air. Three beautiful five-year-old girls arrived and took seriously their duty to pass out little gifts to each guest. Our friend, Sharon, orchestrated the making of “Love Links,” my idea to connect our guests to each other and to us as part of the ceremony. My daughter, Jennifer, brought recorded music for gathering and dancing. A string trio set up their instruments, adding to the elegance in the space. A photographer scurried about, looking for adequate light and clicking shots here and there. The coconut cake, lovingly baked by Carrie, took its rightful place on a platform and it looked spectacular! Joy was everywhere.

I had expected the wedding to be fun. I was not aware of how palpable the love of our friends would be as Anna and I stood face to face and exchanged our vows. I have officiated many weddings. I have worked with couples to plan how the ceremony will be ordered and what words will be said. But it is only in being the bride that I felt the communal significance of a wedding. The love of our friends surrounded us. Anna and I both felt lifted up by that love and we also felt how our wedding day was a source of strength and hope for our guests. Together, we were an inspired congregation, longing for the best in all of our relationships, in all of our shared struggles and victories.

In truth, the Holy Spirit was present and gave us a rich and mystical blessing. I have never been happier and I have never felt so free. The secret of a good life is learning how to accept the love that created us and brought us here. I have had trouble believing that anyone can really love me. I have spent many hours in the offices of various therapists as I have talked on and on about how to trust that I am indeed loveable. The strong wind of the Spirit blew through Stonewall Hall and carried away the detritus of that scar tissue. The wedding was a sacred thing, a chance for God’s love to come to earth and touch all of us at once.  

A few weeks ago I was invited to speak to the people at First Baptist Church here in Memphis and to tell them the story of how I came to be both a Christian and a woman-loving-woman. I sat on the platform with Broderick Greer, an Episcopal priest and a man who loves men. We told our life stories and then we took questions from the congregation. One man asked me, “Why do you want to marry? Why do you need that right?”

I laughed and told him that Anna wondered the same thing. Being married was my idea and I had to talk a good talk in my effort to convince my partner that getting married would be in both our best interests. Sitting in the Baptist Church, I answered, “I want to be married because we CAN be married. People have struggled long and hard to win this legal battle and I want to honor their work by taking advantage of SCOTUS’ ruling.”

Now that the wedding is over, the ring is on my finger and our license has been signed and returned to the office of the Shelby County Court Clerk, my answer is much wider and fuller. I realize how secure I feel, now that we are married. If anything happens to either Anna or me, if an accident occurs or there is some sort of disaster, there will be no confusion about whom to contact as our next of kin. We are not roommates, homeowners or friends. We are married. She is my wife. I am her wife. It is recorded in legal documents and that means more to me now than I knew it would mean to me then.

There is something about being married that touches deeply our personal exchanges. I feel free now to hold the hand of my wife in public and to kiss her on the lips when we stand together in our driveway. It is no secret. There is no shame. We are a happily married couple, living the American dream.

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