Forty Seven Weddings and a Funeral

It’s been almost a week now, but I’m still internalizing the seismic change taking place in Minnesota. Love is the Law! It all began at midnight on August 1…

Minneapolis Mayor RT Rybak presided over forty six weddings at City Hall in the wee hours of Thursday, August 1, beginning at 12:01 AM. By turns laughing and crying, he said over and over that these couples were now lawfully married. Watching those weddings of total strangers, I cried several times myself, and laughed a good bit too.

I didn’t burst into tears (as I feared I would) at the legalization of a longstanding partnership that I officiated on August 2, but I did later, driving on a suburban street, when I remembered the moment. What joy to look out at the faces of two women who have stood by each other for a quarter of a century and say, “I now pronounce you legally wed.” What joy in the faces of their relatives and friends gathered by the banks of the beautiful Mississippi in a small informal ceremony in Red Wing, Minnesota.  (Here’s a short video piece of that moment, excerpted from a longer video of the wedding by Helen’s brother, Chaunce Stanton:)

Of course, it’s never that simple. Every wedding brings with it the ghosts of those who are not there, whether they are deceased or simply absent. For Nia and Helen, there were large gaps in the family fabric, perhaps not surprising considering that Helen’s stepsister is the aggressively homophobic Rep. Michelle Bachmann. This made the wedding planning both joyful and sorrowful. In our preparatory meetings, as with the other lesbian couples I’m working with on weddings this month, we talked about invitations sadly not issued, or refusals sadly received.

As Helen’s brother Mike said in a toast, Nia and Helen have been models of restraint and respect through this entire battle for equality in Minnesota. It was out of respect for Helen that wedding guests at my table did not lift up a loud toast to Michelle, stating that without her we never would have reached this day.

And yet, that’s pretty accurate. Before heading off for the nation’s capitol, Minnesota State Rep. Michelle Bachmann repeatedly spearheaded the addition of a constitutional amendment defining marriage as solely between a man and a woman. The amendment never got on the ballot when the DFL was the majority, but as soon as Republicans controlled the legislature, after Michelle had moved on to bigger things, they moved forward quickly with it. And, while previously the DFL had held both houses, they were always hesitant and nervous when approached by GLBT advocates to move much of anything forward that was supportive of domestic partnership. Marriage equality would have been out of the question.

Then came the 18 month campaign, based in honest conversations with 27,000 regular Minnesotans involved. Minnesotans defeated the Constitutional amendment, and brought the DFL back into leadership of both houses. After that, DFL leaders were willing to move ahead with marriage equality. Eventually, a few brave Republicans crossed over, and both houses voted yes. And now, here we are, one of the 13 states where folks like Nia and Helen can quit worrying about caring for each other in their old age, and having access for hospital visits, and creating wills that try to assert that they are in fact related. Folks can get on with life! Hopefully we can move on with progressive movement in other arenas—jobs , housing, good education for all.

Which brings me to the one funeral I attended last week, also on August 1. It was for Ron McKinley, a prominent Native American philanthropist, educator, and activist. Hundreds of people of every conceivable culture, race, religion, age, ability, gender, and sexual orientation gazed out over Como Lake Thursday morning, some of us bleary eyed from watching weddings in the wee hours of the morn. I knew Ron only tangentially but know and love some of his family well. We heard testimonies and stories of joy, love, commitment, and wisdom in a life cut tragically short in a motorcycle accident. Several of the speakers commented on how much Ron would have loved the event, and how much the gathered crowd was in fact his legacy. It was an awe-inspiring legacy to me.

If weddings cause all present to re-examine our own relationships, funerals prod those of us outside the most intense sphere of grief to reflect on how well we are living out our life’s purpose. Ron’s memorial service certainly did that for me. As much as the weddings celebrate love and commitment, so I hope do our lives beyond that intimate partner.

So here is my toast: May marriage equality be one more step on our path towards a world where every person, no matter what, is equally valued, supported, and loved, until death do us part.

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