I ‘m pretty sure that I have shared here that my job for years has been weddings. I work for a Church and I also do weddings outside the Church when asked. I specialize in “day of” wedding work, which is a misnomer as it’s really a couple months before with logistics and a lot of time writing detailed time-lines, emailing and telephone calls, and then I pull it all together at the rehearsal and make sure the day of the wedding goes exactly as planned. The Church jobs are easy, I can do those in my sleep, but I like doing the outside venue ones more. there’s more fun and more challenge involved.
I just write that as a way in to what I want to write about tonight, a little background.
I am going to be “day off-ing” for a wedding in February at a cool hotel. It’s for people I know and care about. They are a beautiful couple and their love and respect for each other shines bright. Everything about their courtship and engagement has been stellar; they seem truly made for each other, linked by common bonds, common problems and ways of working through them, and a really sweet and wonderful love.
We had a dinner meeting tonight. I brought my notebook, questions and a list of things I needed from them. We talked about specific aspects of the wedding. I explained how certain things work (like the unity candle ceremony ), we talked about set up, how the timeline would flow and all sorts of things to make the day special.
One thing they wanted was for the Best Man and Maid of Honor to sign the wedding license during the ceremony. I don’t argue with couples, my job is to make things work, and while I had never seen this done I knew it could be easily incorporated. A little later in the discussion, however, we were talking about the logistics of that and it was starting to feel a little complicated. The Bride said she would be “ok” with the signing not happening during the ceremony. I concurred, sharing that I usually have the witnesses sign before the wedding because it really doesn’t matter. The only one who needs to properly sign after the wedding is the minister.
But then the Bride explained to me why they thought about having the signing as part of the wedding in the first place. As I listened I began to cry. You see, when I referred to the Bride who said she’d be ok not doing that and the Bride who explained to me why she had thought of it, I wasn’t talking about the same person. There are two brides involved in this wedding, two women saying their vows, exchanging rings and being married “in the sight of god and man”. Two beautiful women in white gowns walking down the aisle with their fathers. Rebecca and Olivia are getting married.
Rebecca explained it to me. She said that while the spiritual idea of the marriage was important, they had always had that option. However it has only been very recently that they could LEGALLY wed, go to the registrar, get a license, take that license to the DMV and the Social Security office. Do all of those things that have been so available to all of us hetero-sexual couples forever, that we, and that I, took absolutely for granted. A wedding license to a gay couple is a BIG deal.
The thing is, I knew that. I voted for the right to wed, signed petitions. I have a slew of gay friends and always have . This is not my first gay wedding, either helping with or attending. I have also been present at a number of weddings where the couple, African-American,took part in a ceremony called “jumping the broom”. This referenced the way that marriages were marked by slaves, who were not allowed to marry. Jumping over a broom symbolically wed them, and in a modern day ceremony it links the past with the present and reminds people of how it used to be.
Until tonight no one had so clearly explained to me exactly what that piece of paper represents. How often have any of us said “oh it’s just a piece of paper, it doesn’t mean anything” about a license? I have some friends who recently declared themselves married, rings, FB status and all, yet they never got a license and so are not legally wed. They are not gay either; it IS just a piece of paper to them, and I’m sure to a lot of us. A very convenient piece of paper certainly, very helpful in life and taxes, with children, it protects our rights for god’s sake.
But to gay people that piece of paper, that LEGAL marriage that we take for granted, is huge. It’s a civil rights issue. It’s history. It’s jumping the broom. It goes far beyond being a license and moves into the realm of sacred text. It is IMPORTANT; it is a hard won right, and clearly should be celebrated. I missed that and was a little embarrassed. As open and aware as I see myself, I didn’t get it; now I can never forget, nor would I want to.
From a moment of “well, it might be easier to not have the signing in the ceremony” I moved into “DAMN STRAIGHT that signing is happening, we’ll figure it out and it will be wonderful”. We all had tears and chills and palpable feelings of doing something important in their ceremony. Celebrating their union, , their love, but also their RIGHTS.
The details are still to be worked out, but it will be wonderful. It will be a sacred, legal moment in their ceremony, and I will never take a license to marry for granted again.
In April the Supreme Court will hear oral arguments for extending marriage rights to all 50 states, making it federal law. Everything points to the fact that it will happen; they say they will rule in June. One day, in the not so distant future a couple may get married and not even think about how hard fought the battle was to allow marriage equality. One spouse will say to his husband “oh, it’s just a piece of paper”.
And it will be.