Six rows of white folding chairs changed my former husband's Palm Springs living room into a wedding chapel. With soft organ music and joyous greetings, fifty guests filled the seats as the ceremony was about to begin. Beethoven's "Hymn to Joy" set the mood as a minister in white vestments led the couple to the front of the room.
Jim and his partner were sealing their commitment with a lawful marriage ceremony. With close friends and several family members present, they shared traditional vows "to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer,for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish until death do us part." Each repeated the familiar promises with sincerity and emotion, exchanging gold wedding rings to symbolize their vows.
This same-sex wedding was as traditional as any ordinary marriage ceremony I'd attended before, but it was singularly moving and significant to me. To my husband Dale and me and to my grown sons, it represented our complete acceptance of Jim as a gay man. Our presence as witnesses to his marriage demonstrated that recognition. We're still a family, though an unusually extended one--stretched in ways we never thought possible.
Truthfully, I had gone to California with trepidation. I didn't know exactly how it would affect me to watch Jim marry another man. I didn't know how my own husband would feel, though I was deeply grateful for his support during this emotionally charged life event. I had also worried about my older son, a religious conservative who surely must experience huge inner conflict between his church's teachings and our family ties. Historic tension between my two sons was also a concern. How would they respond to unaccustomed closeness during three energy-draining days?
I needn't have worried. Thankfully, those busy days passed without any unpleasantness. Everyone tried hard to make each person comfortable. The two families mixed freely, getting acquainted, sharing meals, overlooking differences in lifestyle and background. In fact, it was fun! This wedding was a benchmark. I believe that we all reached a new plane of understanding and openness. "It is what it is," Dale often says, implying simple, effortless acceptance.
Jim's October 30th wedding was a memorable experience for everyone attending. I'm thrilled that, like me, he is committed to his life-partner in a sanctified marriage. They are among the lucky ones. The rules have changed again. On November 4 California voters passed Proposition 8 to ban same-sex marriages and override the recent court decision legalizing them. The new constitutional amendment limits marriage to heterosexual couples. Enormous amounts of money were poured into this regressive action, the first time such a measure has passed in a state where gay unions had been legal.
Jim and his partner made it under the wire, celebrating their marriage just five days before it would have been impossible. Like 18,000 other gay couples married since the California Supreme Court legalized it last May, their marriage will remain valid, according to state Attorney General Jerry Brown. This battle between conflicting laws dramatically demonstrates that civil rights can never be taken for granted, even in our republic.
For a fuller discussion of the rationale supporting gay marriage, see my October 20 blog, "Gay Marriage Now Personal."