Yesterday closed out August, the first month of marriage equality in Minnesota. Fittingly, I saw it out just as I entered it in: officiating at a lesbian wedding. As I have stood before dozens of couples this month, and as I have sat in the chairs weeping for friends, I have a couple of thoughts about pastoral pieces that I think should be included in same sex weddings, at least where the law has recently changed towards marriage equality.
First, in each case there are people who love the brides, or the grooms, who are not ready yet to embrace this notion of marriage equality, and are thus not present to celebrate. I acknowledge that their love is real, none-the-less, and that we at the ceremony pray for the day when all will celebrate love, and join in witnessing same sex couples’ marriage vows. However, in the meantime, we appreciate the integrity and authenticity of those who chose not to attend, and know that they love the couple none-the-less.
This is important because in many cases there will be many conspicuous absences of key family members. Differences in family views were most evident when I officiated at the wedding of Rep. Michelle Bachmann’s lesbian stepsister, (See http://www.patheos.com/blogs/uucollective/2013/08/forty-seven-weddings-and-a-funeral/) but they have been somewhat present in every same sex wedding I witnessed last month. Family gossip lines being what they are, I am fairly confident that word of this naming and inclusion will reach the absent members at some point.
Second, because we have not yet reached a place of universal agreement about the blessing that these weddings bring to our wider community, I urge all who attend, particularly straight allies, to go back to work or neighborhood barbecues, and describe what they witnessed at the wedding. Describe the years that this couple has been together, the love that was evidenced at the service, how good it felt for people to be there, gay and straight alike. How, in fact, it strengthened participants’ own commitments to their spouses.
This is important because our campaign for marriage equality was story-driven, based on reflections of personal relationships with or on the lived experiences of gay and lesbian couples. Though the campaign for 51% of the vote is over, to reach the 80 or 90 percent of support which will ultimately bring us together, the storytelling must continue. People who voted against marriage equality need to hear about how it is actually impacting the people around them, to balance and ultimately dissolve the horror stories of mayhem and destruction of heterosexual marriage which they have heard.
Finally, I have remarked in each ceremony I’ve officiated (tip o’ the hat to my friend Kate Tucker for this frame) that, when couples have been together for decades faithfully and loyally, we are actually present to witness vows between them and the State of Minnesota as much as or more than vows between the couple. The State of Minnesota, finally, has stepped forward with a commitment to support same-sex couples for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part—by providing social security benefits and tax benefits, access to health care and hospital beds, and all of the ease which heterosexual couples expect in the aftermath of the death of their beloved—beginning with access to the body itself, and extending out to inheritance rights, and decisions about the funeral.
The first month is over, but the struggle for marriage equality continues, even as the IRS declares that married couples anywhere can file joint federal taxes. Until the patchwork of equality and inequality tips into a nation where couples don’t need to fearfully pack marriage certificates in their luggage when they travel across state lines, we have our work to do.
Meanwhile, mazel tov to all of the newly married couples in Minnesota and other states this month. Though some of us older folks might grumble that we feel as if we’re in our late twenties again, with weddings every weekend, the joy in the grumbling is readily evident. Finally, we’re being treated as adults!