Regardless of its manifestation, love is love and will always prevail
In the spring of 1980, a friend invited me to supper at a local pizza parlor, his purpose that night was to reveal he was gay. To remember his confession bordered on the apologetic, as if he was sorry to do this “thing” to his family and friends.
I did not confess to him my suspicions, if perhaps also a reason to be apologetic. Suspicion among friends is a hard cross to bear, if being unkind to suspect in the first place, if among friends not to be up-front.
His revelation was not the sole reason he bought my supper, beyond his confession of his identity was a favor. He asked if I would “marry” him and his partner.
At the time, I was what in clergical circles is known as a “local pastor.” Charged with the keep and tending of a village kirk as couldn’t afford a resident ministry, to conduct morning service, births, marriages, death and the annual church supper.
As that former seminarian, I had for my own reasons decided not to accept ordination, having landed in doctrine somewhere in the far west pasture of the Bible, meaning Dickens, Darwin and James Dickey.
“Marry us” he said. To which I replied I would be glad to but as a legal matter the marriage would only be poetic justice since the state of Wisconsin did not recognize gay marriage. But we could have an “occasion,” a communal celebration, an observance, if with no legal standing.
He countered that among friends this served as a kind of document. Iverson Park, summer of 1980, a Saturday afternoon.
The wedding was clandestine, words were said, scripture cited, all this beside a trout stream as counts as both blessing and ordination with some Biblical precedent for the holy invocation of waters. The guests were close friends, no family was present as they couldn’t or wouldn’t understand or accept.
I don’t recall the words, to guess Second Corinthians, the ones about love. Words that state legislatures tend to forget, that it isn’t the man and woman as make the marriage, it’s the love. As that outlaw seminarian, I did suspect King David may have been bisexual, and as for sexual identity, those disciples weren’t your average bowling team either.
The wedding day was lovely, the mood was celebrant, if also a touch covert. We had hot dogs, shared the sticks, passed the catsup, steamingly cold potato salad, baked beans with onions and peppers provided by an understanding mom, who knew. His father didn’t, they did not attend. As said, it was 1980.
Thirty-five years hence, this time the wedding was my wonderful nephew who has been living with his mate for 17 years. That with the Supreme Court’s overturn of legislative angst including Wisconsin’s, opening the door for their legal marriage. Methodist Church, Second Street, River Falls, Wis., Aug. 26, 3:30 p.m.
On entering the church’s sanctuary I noticed something a touch strange, but couldn’t quite put my finger on it. That sense passed, never mind if I had looked close I would have noticed the altar was improvised, made of plywood painted black. That Methodists have a long tradition of being a non-ornamental theology is well-known, if not quite so plain as to resort to plywood painted black.
The service began, there was music, appropriately enough “Somewhere Over the Rainbow,” I quickly realized the palpable mood of liberation was getting to me. Family members filed in, the grooms entered. Among the congregation there seemed a collective expectancy, a need, a willingness to observe and endorse both the social and spiritual moment.
Present was a certain public mix of identities that most heterosexuals are not used to as a presence; that community of the color and kinds of love, that brought a new realm of belonging. We were for this hour quite the rainbow soup, the feeling as said was palpable. The public sense of coming out, of an old wrong at last made right, a sense of democracy in its most elemental application that the framers of the Constitution had not gone on to detail.
The grooms stood before us, touched hands, words of welcome said, and then the reverend said, “Those familiar with this church will have noticed the pews have been turned to face the back of the church. To publically demonstrate and declare that we can change our orientation.”
There was broad laughter and spontaneous applause. For this 70-year-old Wisconsin dirtball, what I felt was an emotion best left to the back end of the field. I worked hard to swallow it back because farmers don’t cry.
A half-hour later my nephew and his mate were announced as married in the eyes of God and in the state of Wisconsin. The applause was long and eager. Somewhere, a clanging gong fell silent.