Sunday, September 12, 2010

Why Marriage? Why Now? – Part 3

There were a lot of hoops to jump through before our marriage could happen. We decided to ask the bishop of the independent Catholic movement (CACINA) who had blessed our union in 1999 in the chapel of the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, MA to officiate. We figured that now that he was able to actually marry us, it ought to be his role to finish the rite he had begun eleven years previously. He was delighted when we asked him. But before D.C. would allow him to officiate, he had to file a form indicating his desire to do so and his proof of orders with a national religious body with the D.C. clerk’s office.

Then there was the license, the waiting period and the filing requirements. D.C. does not require blood or HIV tests and only requires a three day cooling off period. But that meant being in D.C. a full work week to get the license on a Monday, conduct the service on a Friday after the three day waiting period, and file the certificate that same day before 5 p.m. So, we’d need a house sitter to care for our animals. My nephew agreed to do that for a small fee. And we’d also need to remember to have enough cash on hand once at the clerk’s office to pay the fees for the issuance of the certificate and the filing fees to record it and obtain certified copies.

Then there was the question of rings. I have worn a silver wedding ring since our union was blessed eleven years ago. It was created by the Equality Project of the Human Rights Campaign, of which I am a member, and it bears the inscription Aequalitas, Latin for equality, inside the band. There has never been a time when I considered my relationship with Andy anything less than equal to any other, regardless of its legal status. So buying another ring made little sense to me. But Andy had no ring and spent hours searching the internet for a ring which would not cause undue constriction of his fingers. He finally came down with a slender platinum band which came by Federal Express four days before we left for D.C.

Of course, we also needed a rite to follow. Being the lover of liturgy that I am, I decided to create our own rite. I began with the Marriage Rite from the Book of Common Prayer, my starting place for all weddings I conduct. I drafted a rite which recited our history as a couple together, noted the recent change in the law in the District permitting our marriage and then launched into the BCP service. My friend, Bill Fite, who we asked to co-celebrate the marriage, added an Apache Wedding Blessing to the end of the rite. He also agreed to print out the booklets and bring them along.

We were ready.

Marriage is a symbol laden institution. And so we would have to be very conscious of our own symbolic interaction in this process.

We chose Friday, Aug. 13 as the day for our marriage very intentionally. Six years previously, I had been on the way home from a trip to Canada and had stopped in Washington to see a long time friend in nearby College Park. I had spent Friday, Aug. 13, 2004 at the Smithsonian art museums. I was loaded down with books and posters I convinced myself I needed for my classes. I was taking my first sip of merlot in the Sculpture Gardens, jazz quintet warming up, when I called Andy to see how things were going in Florida. “You haven’t heard the news, have you?” he began, telling me Hurricane Charley had changed course, jumped two categories in strength and was now headed directly for Orlando. Before the night was over, we would lose our home to a three ton oak tree, the beginning of a four year nightmarish process of rebuilding.

We intentionally chose this day to hold our wedding in part as a tribute to resilience of our relationship in the face of disaster. But we also sought to redeem this day, to make whole (and thus holy) once again a day with ragged, painful memories, and perhaps to defy fate by getting married on a Friday the 13th.

We also very intentionally chose the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court as the location for our marriage. Over the portico of the court is the ultimate promise of the judiciary system to the world: “Equal Justice Under Law.” It seemed fitting for a marriage which both reflected the justice of the District of Columbia’s new law as well as the ensuing challenge to the jurisprudence of a largely discriminatory nation to be conducted at that site. As I explained to my friends, “The promise is ‘Equal Justice Under Law’ and we’ve come to claim our share.”

Our plans were set when we ran into a snag. It seems the National Park Service does not permit weddings in most of the national monument and buildings area it polices. That is particularly true of the U.S. Supreme Court where even an act of praying can be considered a political event requiring permit and punishable by fine of $250 for violating that requirement. We would have to be strategic in our approach.

The day finally arrived. We began the service in the hotel where we were staying, working through the rite with its exchange of promises, its vows, its blessing and exchanges of rings and the Apache Blessing. At that point, we recessed the rite, left the hotel, got onto the Metro and rode over to the Capital South station and walked over to the U.S. Supreme Court. There, on the lowest level of the steps, among camera laden tourists and under the watchful eye of the Capitol security officers, our celebrant finished our service:

“By the power vested in me by the District of Columbia and the Catholic Apostolic Church in North America, I now pronounce you legally married. Those whom G-d has joined together let no one – nation, state or people – put asunder. AMEN. May the peace of G-d be always with you!”

I’m guessing some of the tourists present were startled when Andy and I kissed each other in front of the Court during the exchange of the Peace. That wasn’t my intent but it also wasn’t my great concern. Given the bombardment all of us receive daily of heterosexual imagery, a public gay kiss is a drop in the bucket.

I’m sure these folks had no idea we had just been married right in front of them, a rite to which they were unknowing witnesses. I’m also sure that many probably have no idea what is coming down the road when the wrongs surrounding same sex marriages will be finally be righted. But their children know. And their grandchildren will wonder, as our children do today regarding Loving v. Virginia, how people could have ever thought that way in the first place.

From the Supreme Court, Andy and I walked the five blocks back to the District of Columbia’s clerk’s office. When we filed our duly executed license for marriage, we gave as the location for the marriage 1 First Street NE. It is the address of the U.S. Supreme Court. The court clerk smiled when we told her what was located at that address. “I like that,” she said. “It just seems like the right place for this to happen.” Our triple sealed certificate of marriage arrived in the mail the next week.

I do not expect everyone who knows me and even many who love me to understand our decision to get married. Ultimately, they will have to find their own way to come to grips with this changed reality in the friend and family member they have known for 57 years as single. However, most people whom we have informed of our marriage have congratulated us, many offering a variant of “It’s about time.” The others have simply remained silent. That is their right and I respect that right at the same time I expect our right to decide to marry be respected in the same way.

In many ways, I feel no different than before the marriage. My bones still creak first thing in the morning when I put on my tennis shoes to go walk my two miles before boarding the bus to school. Andy still snores at night accompanied by the beagle and the dachshund, requiring me to gently elbow him to turn over. And we still watch TV at night as we eat our dinner in the living room on the futon amidst our five fur babies. If this is the infamous “gay lifestyle” so many fear, it’s really pretty mundane.

But I have to admit I now get a small delight out of answering questions on forms which inquire into my marital status. I find it a privilege to be able to choose how I describe our relationship, whether I call Andy my partner – the blessing to my life he is and will always be – or my husband. And while I do not look forward to the contentiousness which all litigation inevitably involves, I am grateful to have an opportunity to be part of the movement for justice for all people regardless of their sexualities.

So why marriage? Why now? My answer is simply that this is a change whose time has come, both in our lives and in the world in which we live. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed “Justice delayed is justice denied.” On Friday, August 13, 2010, the promise of “Equal Justice Under Law” came a baby step closer to reality. For that, I am thankful to a very generous and compassionate G-d. And I thank our officiants and the small band of witnesses who accompanied us to the steps of the very seat of justice to claim our share.

The Rev. Harry Scott Coverston, J.D., Ph.D.
Member, Florida Bar (inactive status)
Priest, Episcopal Church (Dio. of El Camino Real, CA)
Instructor: Humanities, Religion, Philosophy of Law
University of Central Florida, Orlando

 If the unexamined life is not worth living, surely an unexamined belief system, be it religious or political, is not worth holding.

Most things of value do not lend themselves to production in sound bytes. ++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1 comment:

Bill & Chen-Fu said...

Having beat you to the courthouse by a year and a half, Fu and I can finally stop saying, "Come on in, the water's fine."

Seriously, having timorously walked into and then proudly walked out of the Boston City Hall on February 17, 2009, our new marriage certificate clutched in our still sweaty hands, we understand far better than most the joys and fears, the hopes and dreams, the gritty reality of married life for gay men.

We hope that your friends, colleagues, family, and students will "read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest" the thoughts you have shared here. Your words certainly are right on target.

May God continue to bless you both in your life together and may your days in the land be long and prosperous.

Bill & Fu