The first wedding I ever performed took place in Chicago in an art gallery, in 1997.
The two consenting adults were barred from legal union, so it wasn’t a wedding in the “render unto Caesar” sense. It was holy, and it was a union of two lives that created a new identity: a family. So it was, in fact, a wedding.
When my friend asked me to officiate, I pointed out that I was still in seminary, and so couldn’t legally marry them. Silence. One beat. Two beats. Then, me: but I guess that doesn’t matter.
(It should have mattered. Years later, when they were able to legally wed, I was the tiniest bit hurt that I wasn’t the one to sign the marriage document, since they’d already been really married for years. By God, through me.)
The day came. My partner and I flew in from Berkeley. Family and friends gathered. The betrothed were handsome, nervous, giddy. I stood in front in my alb and stole, facing the men and their families and friends.
It was a solid five minutes before I saw faces finally register: This is not art; it is a wedding.
Afterwards, a cluster of guests swarmed me.
I prepared for the professions, “I love them. Really I do!”
and the confessions, “but I’m not sure about…”
and the questions, “…how could you do this…?”
What I heard was this: “I’ve never seen a woman minister before. What’s THAT like??”
A couple of years later, in 1999, I arranged external security and nonviolent witness for the Holy Union of two women in Sacramento. 150 pastors and twelve hundred guests attended, while 800 of us, along with mounted police and the usual protesters, surrounded the convention center in solidarity.
(My then-husband quipped, “Elane was in her element: megaphone, God, and 800 people.”)
It took some time for others to see, “This is not a protest. It’s a wedding.”
A passer-by crossed the street from the angry, scowling protesters’ sidewalk to ours, saying, “I don’t know how I feel about this, but I know what side of the street I want be on.”
It’s been over 20 years since I performed my first “gay wedding.”
It wasn’t art.
It wasn’t protest.
It was the union of two souls, through God, in holy matrimony.
It still is.
Love is a choice. It isn’t about attraction, or affection, though God knows those help. Love is about choosing the good of another. Marriage is about promising to keep choosing that, again, and again, and again.