Thursday, August 13, 2009

Rainbow Wedding in California

Entry for 8 August 2009:

Diane’s youngest sister Marjorie realized she was gay only after she finished seminary and started her first job as a Presbyterian minister. Because her church didn’t recognize the right of gay people to be ministers, this pretty well shot her career plans. She drifted for a few years, and finally began building guitars and teaching music.

Two years ago, she met Kris, her current partner, and a year ago the two of them decided a year ago to get married. At the time, marriage was legal for gays. In an earlier draft of this entry I tried to explain the convoluted legal process that has occurred around this issue over the past several years, but I got some of the it jumbled, so Kris has helpfully provided the following chronology:

1. There was a passage of a Proposition (22 I believe) that was NOT a constitutional amendment some years ago identifying marriage as that between a man and a woman.
2. In May 2008, the California State Supreme Court overturned this law as unconstitutional and stated that same-sex couples had a right to marry.
3. Prop 8 passed in November 2008 which was a constitutional amendment. (This was pushed strongly by out of state pro-family groups.)
4. A challenge to the validity of Prop 8 (California has 2 means of changing its constitution) was eventually ruled to be invalid - allowing Prop 8 to stand.

The wedding took place last Saturday at a lovely church in Palo Alto. There was a rainbow theme: The (6!) bridesmaids all wore different rainbow colors. Diane was assigned green, and then had an interesting time locating a green dress, leading to endless references to the Barenaked Ladies’ first hit song, “If I had $1,000,000”, which contains the line “If I had a million dollars/ I’d buy you a green dress/But not a real green dress – that’s cruel”. The Rainbow Women’s Chorus, in which Marjorie and Kris met, performed repeatedly in the service and at the reception afterwards. And there were many rainbow references during and after the ceremony.

There were many interesting things about the ceremony. For example, it was really a wedding/concert, which I think is a lovely format for a wedding, like a nuptial mass, but with music instead of the eucharist. They also added a Buddhist ritual, the Forgiveness Prayer, in which each party asks for forgiveness for things they’ve done to hurt the other, “intentional or unintentional; in thought, word or action; past, present or future”, and in turn offers forgiveness to the other in the same terms. They each composed a song for the other. And they had the minister bless their families. All of these were lovely touches that made the wedding interesting and special.

However, in many ways the most interesting thing about the whole thing was how traditional it was: For one thing, much of it was organized in terms of traditional gender roles: Marjorie was referred to as the bride and wore a white wedding dress, while Kris was referred to as the groomette and wore a dark men’s suit with colored vest and tuxedo (not very practical in the heat!). They were backed up by bridesmaids (dressed in rainbow colors as noted earlier) and attendants (attired similarly to the groom). Aside from the additions I mentioned, the ceremony stuck pretty closely to the traditional order, music, readings and vows. The reception also followed standard wedding traditions.

It was clearly very important to all present that this be blatantly and classically recognizable as a wedding in our western culture. That this was not legally the case was recognized by the opening song (“Legal”) sung by the Rainbow Women’s Chorus, and by remarks made, with varying degrees of rancor or acceptance, by various people throughout the afternoon. Nevertheless, as the minister said, Christian ministers have been performing illegal weddings for nearly 2000 years, when they first began blessings between free people and slaves, which was against Roman law.

In the end, Marjorie and Kris’s wedding between was a complex act of love, defiance, and affirmation. For me at least, it was even more affecting than usual because of the poignance of it not being validated by the government for what everyone there wanted it to be recognized as. The piece of paper the two of them got out of the event says (I believe) “domestic partnership”, but the clear message of the ceremony was that from a cultural and psychological point of view, this was the Real Thing: A Wedding Signifying a Marriage.

An intense political debate is going on in California at the moment over how long to wait before attempting to repeal Proposition 8. It may take 5 years for the law to be reversed, but the demographic trends clearly indicate that our society is steadily moving toward acceptance of gay or lesbian marriage. (Last month, our priest in Glasgow came out publicly in favor of gay marriage in one of the national Scottish newspapers.) Eventually, today’s gay marriage pioneers will be validated legally, but in the meantime it seems very important to me that the rest of us, straight or gay, do our best to personally affirm and validate the legitimacy of their wedding/marriages.

1 comment:

Becky said...

Interesting to hear about your sister-in-law’s wedding, and your loving participation in her special day. We were married in San Diego at the clerk of courts office (by a magistrate in black robes and flip-flops – only in California!) last October, just weeks before Prop 8 passed. That puts us among the 18,000 gay & lesbian couples who married in California while it was legal. Of course in Ohio our marriage has no legal standing at all, which dismayed some friends and family who, not knowing the law here, expected otherwise.

We were both quite happy without all the hoop-de-doo and related stress of a formal wedding. But after I saw firsthand how little was actually involved in getting married - about 90 minutes of paperwork and standing in lines, and about $100 in fees - I felt really annoyed. THIS is the commitment so deeply serious, so fundamental to a civilized culture, that we’re not worthy of it in 44 states out of 50?? THIS is the bond so endangered by our asking to share it?? Getting a driver's license (hell, getting a bug exterminator's license) is tougher than getting married, but we’re not entitled. If this kind of discrimination wasn’t so old and familiar, it could make me crazy.